Kate Carey is a mother of three, a loving wife, and she just so happens to have celiac disease. But, unlike those first two titles she wears proudly, she doesn’t let her diagnosis define her, or rule her life.
That doesn’t mean it’s been an easy road for Carey, a stay-at-home mom from West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Carey started to feel sick after the birth of her second child. A few days after she stopped nursing her son (then 6 weeks old), she felt dizzy and was experiencing bouts of diarrhea.
A trip to the ER concluded that she had vertigo and dehydration. As the days went on, the dehydration went away, but the stomach issues and dizziness stayed. “We had no idea what it was,” Carey recalls.
After more ER visits and an eventual trip to a gastrointestinal doctor, Carey had a scope done. It was finally clear what was happening: she had celiac disease.
Coping with Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a serious immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For those with celiac disease, the consumption of gluten causes a response in the small intestine and, over time, damages the lining of the small intestine and leads to malabsorption of nutrients (1).
Symptoms of celiac disease, like the ones Carey experienced, may include diarrhea, fatigue, dizziness, bloating, weight loss, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and anemia.
The news came as a shock to Carey, who admits, “I had no idea what gluten was, honestly.” It also came at a difficult time, as she was raising her newborn while feeling very sick. “I had trouble getting out of bed even, because I was constantly so dizzy,” she says. “I had also become pretty malnourished. I had no appetite because my stomach was so inflamed.”
Eventually, Carey met with a nutritionist to help her figure out what she could and couldn’t eat to properly manage her condition. During this time, Carey also discovered that she was allergic to dairy, in addition to having celiac disease.
That part came as a major letdown to Carey who, like so many of us, loves dairy and gluten-filled goodies. “I may or may not have cried in friends’ bathrooms, hiding out while they indulged in cookies and all sorts of gluten,” she admits.
Living a Gluten-Free Lifestyle
From that point on, she had to learn how to embrace a gluten-free and dairy-free lifestyle so that she could free her system of the foods that made her sick and get nutrients back into her body.
“I honestly had no idea of all the dairy and gluten that was in foods that I put into my mouth daily,” Carey says. In her research, she found that it wasn’t only foods that contained the very things making her sick: “Even my shampoo, conditioner and pills had wheat in them!”
She also discovered that beauty products she used all the time, such as foundations and lipsticks, contained wheat (e.g., hydrolyzed soy protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein), too.
Changing all of these aspects of her life immediately, from diet to beauty products, was definitely a challenge at first for Carey. But, in the eight years since her initial diagnosis, she says that she has adapted to living with celiac disease.
While Carey admits she misses certain foods (especially a slice of “real” pizza), her family has healthier eating habits as a whole now. “Lots of roasted veggies, shakes, and protein,” she says.
Carey can still indulge within the boundaries of what her diet allows. She says that she still bakes, but when she does, she substitutes her old recipes with gluten-free King Arthur flour.
She has to be careful though, as any exposure to gluten, be it in food or products or through cross-contamination, will lead to bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea for roughly three days.
Even though Carey has had to alter parts of her life to keep the symptoms of celiac disease at bay, she advises anyone else who is just starting their own journey to do their research and check all labels thoroughly.
“You are the best advocate for you,” Carey says. “You can tell your doctor exactly what you are feeling and what is going on in your body.”
Carey also urges anyone going through an initial celiac disease diagnosis not to be discouraged, as difficult as it can be at times. “It’s a process, but you will feel better as soon as your gut heals, I promise.”
As you age, it’s common to become a little more forgetful. “Changes in memory are thought to be caused by various factors including changes in brain function, physiological changes in both brain tissue and neurons, and decreased blood flow to the brain,” says Guru Ramanathan, chief innovation officer and SVP for GNC.
In addition, hormones can influence parts of the brain that support memory, so as we age and hormone levels change, “brain fog” can result, says Jenn LaVardera, a registered dietitian for Hamptons RD in Southampton, New York. Changes typically include forgetfulness and taking slightly longer than usual to complete various cognitive tasks, such as balancing your checkbook.
While these types of changes have very little impact on quality of life, “more serious ones can result in memory lapses, cause confusion, and can significantly impact quality of life,” Ramanathan says. Serious changes are scary, so he suggests consulting a physician if you are concerned.
But if “Where are my keys?” or “Has anyone seen my wallet?” have become a common refrain, take heart in the fact that certain supplements have been shown to help with supporting cognitive health and memory function in adults. But before you buy, read on for information on the best memory supplements as well as what to look for on the label.
5 of the Best Memory Supplements
A host of nutrients—from magnesium to choline—and vitamins, including A, C, D and B12, are essential for brain function. “Vitamin C plays an important role in neurotransmitter production and function,” says Ramanathan, who also cites gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA), choline, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as nutrients that play a major role in memory function. In addition, some studies suggest that botanicals including ginkgo biloba and huperzine A also help keep the brain in top form (though others contradict these findings).
While you can get some of these vitamins and nutrients from eating a healthy diet, certain supplements and vitamins available at your local pharmacy or health food store may specifically help support memory function associated with aging. While a lot of the research that’s out there in regard to the effectiveness of supplements is inconclusive or insufficient, here are a handful of supplements that have shown promise for curtailing memory loss:
Particular brain receptors important for learning and memory depend on this mineral for their regulation, which is why Dr. Carolyn Dean, a medical doctor, naturopath, and medical advisory board member for the Nutritional Magnesium Association, says magnesium is “the first supplement to consider for memory problems as well as enhanced brain function.”
Dean cites a 2004 MIT study that describes magnesium as a critical component of the cerebrospinal fluid that keeps learning and memory receptors active (1). Dean warns that not all forms of magnesium are easily absorbed by the body, and that it’s difficult to get enough from diet alone due to mineral-depleted soils. She recommends 600 milligrams of magnesium citrate powder daily. When mixed with water, the powder dissolves and can be sipped throughout the day.
A small 2018 study conducted at the University of California – Los Angeles found that supplements of the substance found in turmeric, the spice that gives Indian curry its bright color, improved both memory and mood in people with mild, age-related memory loss (2). In memory tests, the people taking 90 milligrams of curcumin twice daily improved by 28 percent over an 18-month period. The researchers plan to conduct a follow-up study with a larger number of people.
Vitamin E, an antioxidant, has been linked to improved cognitive performance. In large clinical trials, high doses of vitamin E have been shown to help people with moderate dementia, albeit modestly. Studies analyzed in a 2014 review published in the journal Nutrition confirmed that vitamin E supplementation (at a dose of 2000 IU/day for an average of two years) is safe and free of side effects in the elderly (3). Researchers confirmed vitamin E’s validity as a nutritional compound to promote healthy brain aging and delay functional decline.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Research suggests that eating foods rich in omega-3’s, such as fish, plant and nut oils, and English walnuts, may lower your Alzheimer’s risk. “They help with communication between neurons,” explains LaVardera. But there’s insufficient research about the effectiveness of fish oil supplements, which come in two varieties, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA. One 2014 study suggests that omega-3 fatty acid supplements have the potential to improve cognitive performance and functional brain activation, but more research is needed to better understand if supplements over a longer period of time might be helpful in terms of preventing thinking skills decline in people without memory loss (4). Taking 1 gram per day of combined DHA and EPA is generally recommended to maintain brain health.
This antioxidant found in the skin of purple and red fruits like grapes and blueberries has shown some promise in preventing the deterioration of the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory, according to a 2015 study (5). How much resveratrol do you need to boost brain function? One study on healthy older adults found that taking 200 milligrams per day for 26 weeks improved memory (6). (An occasional glass of red wine, which contains resveratrol, can’t hurt either!)
All of these supplements have demonstrated potential, but it bears repeating that more research is required as to their brain benefits.
How to Choose Supplements for Memory
When it comes to considering memory supplements, it’s important not to buy into the hype. Due to a legal loophole, dietary supplements do not have to pass the rigorous FDA process to ensure they are safe and effective. In other words, many products that claim to “support” or “help” memory may not. Also, look out for the word “natural” on the label. While the word sounds harmless, it’s one of those marketing buzzwords that raise red flags.
The lack of FDA oversight makes assessing their strength, purity and safety difficult. “In general, steer clear from questionable small-name brands, since larger brands tend to have strict safety protocols,” says LaVardera. “Also, look for the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) seal on the label.” In addition, a third-party certification from the USP (United States Pharmacopeia), NSF International or Consumer Lab shows that these products have undergone rigorous third-party certification to make sure their ingredients meet quality standards.
When it comes to magnesium, Dean suggests steering clear of two forms in particular: magnesium aspartate and glutamate. Both are components of aspartame, which should be avoided. “Aspartame is a neurotoxin,” she explains. Other harmful ingredients include trans fats, artificial colors and flavors, and fillers, which inhibit or slow absorption.
Another rule of thumb when it comes to choosing vitamins: Always opt for natural over synthetics. “If the brackets after a vitamin have a food listed, it’s natural,” says Dean. “If it has a chemical listed, it’s synthetic.” Some products contain both.
Precautions When Talking Brain Health Supplements
The side effects of the unregulated memory supplements market are not well documented. However, from what information is available, they range from mild (e.g., nausea from gingko biloba) to severe. In regard to vitamin E, for instance, a 2005 study (7) raised concerns about an increased risk of death in people who take high doses (> 400 IU/d).
In addition, many supplements interact with medications, often with dangerous results. Ginkgo biloba, for one, should never be paired with blood thinners, blood pressure medications or SSRI antidepressants. If you have an ongoing health condition, always consult a physician before beginning a supplement regimen. Similarly, if you’re pregnant, you’ll want to check with your health care provider because you have different nutrient needs when you’re expecting.
Once your doctor green lights supplementation, it’s important to stick with the dosages on the label because, as LaVardera points out, “it is possible to overdose on any supplement or vitamin.” What’s more, she cautions that supplementation is not a substitute for a poor diet. “Nutrients in isolation don’t always have the same effect as nutrients in food,” she says. “Eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and other healthful foods to get the majority of your nutrients, and use supplements to help you meet the recommended amounts.
Anxiety is everywhere and if it’s not affecting you, there’s a good chance it’s affecting someone you know. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States every year (1). That accounts for 18.1 percent of the population.
Those numbers in and of themselves are enough to cause you even more anxiety. Whether it’s work, relationships, the news or our genetics (or, for some folks, all of the above), no one is truly immune to anxiety.
Thankfully, natural remedies like essential oils can be used to help ease stress and anxiety. Let’s take a closer look at how chronic stress affects our health and some of the best essential oils for anxiety.
How Chronic Stress Affects Your Health
Clinical aromatherapist Amy Kreydin explains that human beings have two main processes when it comes to stressors: “We can be in an active state or a state of rest.” Or, in other words, “fight-or-flight and rest-or-digest.”
When we’re under chronic stress, Kreydin says, “We can’t tell the difference between big stressors or little stressors.” When those wires get crossed, you might start to react the same way to wildly different issues. (For instance, someone cutting in front of you in line at the grocery store could produce the same reaction as, say, getting into a car accident.)
“Internally, you may chemically produce the same volume of stress,” Kreydin says. This not only has a major impact on your mental health but also your physical health. “If you can’t get into the rest-and-digest mode, you’re getting bad sleep and a bad intake of your nutrition.” Since sleep and diet are an essential part of your health, being in constant fight-or-flight mode “has a snowball effect on the rest of your system,” Kreydin says.
Using Essential Oils for Anxiety
In order to combat anxiety and the many ways it can impact our overall well-being, essential oils for stress are proving to be a source of hope and major help.
“The ability of some essential oils to shift us out of that fight-or-flight and into rest-or-digest influences the chemical shift of the nervous system,” Kreydin says. The direct inhalation of certain essential oils draws them into the limbic part of the brain, where memory is stored and where actions (such as anxiety) are controlled.
By inhaling essential oils that best fit your profile (more on that in a bit), you can start to anchor a certain scent to a certain feeling. And, because these scents are going to the part of your brain where memory resides, you’ll associate that essential oil with a particular feeling.
“Let’s say you inhale a bit of lavender before bedtime. You start to train the brain that lavender is relaxing and it’s time to go to sleep,” Kreydin explains. She notes that you can also use essential oils during the day and pair them with a relaxing activity like meditation. “You are telling your brain, ‘OK, this is downtime.’”
It doesn’t have to be a once-a-day endeavor, either. In fact, it may be to your benefit to use essential oils as much as what works for you. “Just like we exercise our bodies, we can exercise our brain to relax, and integrating essential oils in intervals throughout the day can have a nice ripple effect,” Kreydin says.
7 Best Essential Oils for Anxiety
Whether you decide to visit an aromatherapist or figure out which scents work best on your own, here are seven of the best essential oils for anxiety:
One of the most popular essential oils, particularly for stress and anxiety, lavender has been shown time and again to have relaxing effects on people (2). “Because it acts as a sedative, it tells the central nervous system it’s time to relax,” Kreydin explains. While lavender may not be the best option for daytime use in some people (it may trigger sleepiness), it’s a fast-acting essential oil for those who do benefit from it.
How to use it: Kreydin recommends using an aroma stick for lavender inhalation so that it doesn’t overpower entire spaces.
An ideal essential oil if you’re feeling flustered, ylang ylang can help clear out the negative headspace you might be stuck in. In one study, subjects who applied ylang ylang oil rated themselves more calm and relaxed than subjects in the control group (3). Kreydin praises the “cooling effect” ylang ylang has on people, as well as its “affinity for liver energy, which is where we store our anger and frustration.”
How to use it: Since ylang ylang has a powerful floral fragrance, and too much can cause headaches, Kreydin recommends using an aroma stick over a diffuser.
Though rose is one of the more expensive essential oils, its therapeutic benefits make it worth every penny. A 2017 study observed that rose oil had physiological and psychological relaxation, analgesic and anti-anxiety effects (4). A highly recommended essential oil for women, particularly older women, Kreydin says it can do wonders for those going through menopause and the stressors that can come along with it. Plus, who doesn’t like to stop and, quite literally, smell the roses?
How to use it: Once again, Kreydin suggests an aroma stick over a diffuser when using rose.
When it comes to jasmine—a very floral scent—sometimes less is more. But jasmine offers unquestionable benefits for some people dealing with anxiety. Jasmine oil has a stimulating effect that could be useful for relieving depression and uplifting mood, one study found (5). In addition, jasmine has been revered for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties (6). So, if your physical pain is causing stress, jasmine may be able to help with both issues! Because jasmine has such a strong scent, Kreydin suggests balancing it out with complementary scents like cedarwood or frankincense.
How to use it: As with other stronger scents, it’s best to dilute jasmine if using a diffuser, or use it in liberal doses with an aroma stick.
While peppermint may remind you of brushing your teeth, that might not actually be a bad thing, especially if you find yourself stuck in a negative headspace. Kreydin says that peppermint is as refreshing a scent as it is stimulating. In fact, some studies have found peppermint to enhance memory and increase alertness (7). For some users, peppermint awakens thoughts of, “this clears my brain and I feel good. I have a clean slate.” Peppermint has also demonstrated calming effects in combination with other essential oils. In a study on nursing students, subjects who inhaled a blend of lavender, peppermint, rosemary and clary sage aromas experienced lower levels of anxiety and perceived stress than the control group (8).
How to use it: Users can reap the benefits of peppermint via diffusers and massage oils, or by diluting it in a warm bath.
Derived from the leaves and small twigs of the bitter orange tree, petitgrain oil has sedative and relaxant properties. A 2017 study suggested that inhaling petitgrain essential oil can improve workplace performance and reduce stress levels through balancing the autonomic nervous system (9). Petitgrain delivers more of a “green and grassy” scent, which Kreydin says is ideal for people who don’t react well to florals. Kreydin likes to mix petitgrain with a sweet and relaxing citrus, such as mandarin or tangerine, to give patients a calming and serene scent profile.
How to use it: Depending on how you respond to petitigrain and its complementary scents, you can put it in a diffuser before bed or use an aroma stick.
While citrus scents can give some users a feeling of sunshine and happiness, others may feel overwhelmed by essential oils such as lemon or orange. (And overwhelmed definitely isn’t a feeling you want to have when you’re trying to de-stress.) This is where neroli, which comes from the flowers of the bitter orange tree, comes into play, Kreydin says. For those who respond well to it, neroli can pull double duty as a mood booster and a tension reliever. A 2014 study on postmenopausal women found that neroli oil may have potential as an effective intervention to reduce stress and improve the endocrine system (10).
How to use it: Neroli can be used via diffuser or directly on the skin, but Kreydin warns that the scent may still be too strong for some.
How to Choose an Essential Oil for Anxiety
If you’re a newcomer to the essential oils realm, it’s best to figure out which scents work best for you when you’re in a stress-free state. If you’re in a panic mode, you don’t know what your response is going to be. (For instance, if you’re panicking and a scent like lemon triggers an unpleasant memory, it could make it worse.)
When you’re feeling more even-keeled, do a test inhalation and see how the various essential oils make you feel. For many, it’s different from what they had initially expected, Kreydin says. If you’re used to synthetic scents (like those from candles or detergents), the actual scent may come off as too strong or even unpleasant to you.
That’s why booking an appointment with an aromatherapist may make the most scents— ahem, sense—when it comes to anti-anxiety essential oils and/or essential oil blends for anxiety.
Not only does this allow you to experience essential oils for anxiety in a controlled environment, but an aromatherapist is “someone who understands the chemistry of essential oils, which ones can and cannot interact with certain medications, and how your body will react with them,” Kreydin notes.
This post was provided by our friends at ATP Science.
Your body can’t afford to wait and see what your stress is before it reacts. Just in case that pain you are feeling is a shark attack that has left a big hole or a snake bite with venom, and not just a sore back from sitting at your desk or standing at the sink for too long.
And then the phone rings. You answer, deal with it and hang up. Someone walks in with a new perfume that makes your nose tickle and makes you sneeze. Then you realize you didn’t get a chance to eat, let alone prepare a meal, so you grab something convenient full of a chemical cocktail of colors and preservatives and sweeteners…
All of these scenarios will trigger a stress response. This stress response gives you everything you need to fight a shark, prevent bleeding and purge venom. After that stress response is activated, it will send signals to the brain to say, “we survived, and now you can switch it all off.”
What Is Cortisol?
Cortisol is often referred to as our “stress hormone,” as it is released from our adrenal glands in response to stress. Cortisol in the short term will help to keep sugar in your blood to fuel your escape plan, increase blood pressure, and switch off sleep and contentment chemicals to help us escape. Then the brain picks up on the fact that cortisol has been released and says “stop.”
Cortisol also switches off inflammation and immune activity to protect you from your own defense mechanisms. So, cortisol is also our essential “anti-stress” hormone.
Balancing Cortisol Levels
But what if cortisol is telling us to stop when we experience another stressor? What if you wake up in a pit of snakes, have a stress response, get out of there and end up in a pit of spiders with cortisol running around your brain saying, “Stop, relax, it’s OK.” You ignore cortisol and go again anyway. You become resistant to cortisol as an anti-stress hormone.
This can result in phases of hyper-reactivity with over-secretion and over-exposure to cortisol long term. In this instance, cortisol stops working as on/off switch and you struggle to let go and calm down even after the stress has passed. At the same time, your body is changing because of the cortisol. You can develop insulin resistance, keeping sugar in the blood, you can break down the muscles in your arms and legs to make more sugar, and you can preserve fat and fluid around your organs in case of immobilizing injury. The constant preparing for injury results in high blood pressure and holding on to salt and fluid retention. Your immune system can be suppressed.
You can’t do this forever, so your adrenal gland will often go into a phase of conservation, where it holds on to its cortisol and stops giving it out. This is when we experience excessive fatigue and pain and feel wired and tired. We have so much fatigue but can’t get a good night’s sleep.
Most people are stuck hovering between overactive and underactive. There is no middle ground. This is why adaptogens are so good. It is too hard to treat with uppers and downers—you’d be changing plans every day. Adaptogens help to bring back that middle ground and prevent the extremes.
What Are Adaptogens?
The simplified definition of an adaptogen is something that brings you back to balance, regardless of the direction of change. Meaning that when you are up and stressed, they can help calm you down, but when you are down and flat, they can pump you up.
Adaptogens don’t simply work as uppers or downers. They’re not happy pills or sedatives. They work by reducing the number of stress triggers you get from within your body to reduce overreacting to stress as it piles up. This also prevents exhaustion of your stress response.
4 Adaptogens That Can Help Reduce Stress
Imagine stress as an overflowing cup. You can’t stop how much the outside world tries to put in your cup. But with adaptogenic herbs, you can build a bigger cup with ashwagandha to hold more, you can remove the added burden from within your own body with turmeric and schisandra, and you can work to put a cap on it and stop it from overflowing with rhodiola.
Turmeric is an adaptogen with very mild effects on brain chemistry to alter mood up or down. Its main actions are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, supporting the immune system and reducing pain, inflammation and immune over-reactivity. This leaves more resources to deal with stress from outside your body.
Schisandra is an adaptogen with mild brain effects. Its main actions revolve around the liver and lungs, protecting us from toxic exposure and regulating acid (alkaline balance via our cells, liver and lungs).
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen with mild effects on your stress response. Its main target is supporting the other parts of the body that are switched off with stress, such as the systems that control sex hormones and thyroid hormones and support and build up our rest, digest and recovery. It works to support our recovery to prevent exhaustion from being stuck in survival mode.
Rhodiola is an adaptogen with a state-dependent effect on mood. When up and nervy before an event, it can calm you down, but if you are feeling flat and no fire, it can pick you up.
Can Supplements Help Manage Stress?
There are so many stress triggers around us at all times in the modern age. When your body is stuck in survival mode, you have two options. You can use natural or pharmaceutical drugs to manage or sedate your response to stress by modifying your mood or reducing the number of triggers that get to your brain through sedation. Or, you can reduce the severity of the stress signals to the brain to take the burden off your body and allow it to reboot naturally and adapt to your stress.
ATP Science formulated a supplement called Cort Rx to help people deal with stress. The brain knows you are under stress because it picks up on your outside environment but also measures the chemicals released by your immune system, inflammatory pathways, and toxins from your gut and liver. The adaptogenic ingredients in Cort Rx—turmeric, ashwagandha, schisandra and rhodiola—help to normalize your stress reactions by removing the stress burden.
Stress also drives your body into exhaustion. It is essential to ensure adequate nutrition. Macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat and their energy yield) are necessary to regulate energy requirements—having too much or too little is a stress. But do not dismiss the micronutrient cofactors, especially the water-soluble B vitamins that need to be replenished daily, as they are not stored in reserves. You must load up. The more you are doing, thinking and stressing, the more nutrients you are churning through. Nature knows best, so look for a food-based supplement that has been tested to show the nutrients are there in all of their naturally activated forms.
We may not be able to control our outside environment and predict when stress is going to come at us. But if we work on helping our body manage our internal inflammation, oxidative stress, and liver, gut and immune triggers, we can handle life’s challenges better.
If I told you that the secret to improving your physical and mental health and well-being can be found in an ancient Hellenistic philosophy dating all the way back to the third century B.C., you’d probably say, “Are you high?”
On the contrary, I’ve stopped using mood-altering substances like Xanax as a direct result of this philosophy I’m referring to. I’m talking about Stoicism, a remarkably old practice that’s currently enjoying a modern revival thanks to high-profile devotees ranging from self-help gurus like Tim Ferriss to celebrities like Anna Kendrick and Michele Tafoya.
What Is Stoicism?
For most people, Stoicism is greatly misunderstood. The word itself often conjures up images of an emotionally constipated individual who represses her feelings, is indifferent to pain, suffering and even joy, and is, well, stoic in the face of everything life throws at her.
Modern practitioners of the ancient philosophy, however, know just how silly such characterizations are.
At its core, Stoicism is a simple and logical idea. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, here’s a Netflix-style plot summary of a system originally founded by Zeno of Citium: Most things in this life are out of our control. What we can control, however, is how we react to all the out-of-control things that happen to us during our time on this planet. Therefore, how we react to all the things we can’t control, not the things themselves, ultimately determines how happy and fulfilling our lives will be.
Of course, even those wise, ancient Greeks and Romans recognized just how difficult this simple idea was in practice. That’s why stoics from Seneca to Epictetus put together a small library of practical tips and techniques to help.
And those very same techniques are precisely what modern Stoics swear by.
Imagine the Worst-Case Scenario
One of the most popular Stoic strategies is something called “premeditatio malorum” or, if you’re not one of the few people left who speak fluent Latin, “the pre-meditation of evils.” Basically, with this practice, you visualize all the worst possible things that could happen to you in any give situation.
For example, say you’re a runner. Running is your passion; you live to run. You have a 13.1 or 26.2 bumper sticker on the back of your Subaru, you have a winged foot tattooed on the middle of your thigh, and you devour Runner’s World with a religious zeal bordering on fanaticism.
Try a little pre-meditation of evils right before an evening run. What’s the worst thing that could happen to you? As you’re running on a public road, a car fails to see you in time and drives right into you at a high rate of speed. You survive the collision but lose feeling from the waist down and are told you’ll probably never walk again—and running, well, that’s out of the question. It would be horrible and tragic, but you’d find a way to survive and adapt.
Why on earth would someone willingly subject themselves to something like that?
For one thing, research shows that if you practice these negative visualizations regularly and with enough fervor, you’ll learn to appreciate what you have more. After all, if you can truly envision your life without working legs, just think how relieved and blessed you’ll feel when the visualization is over, and you’re back to having the legs of a runner again. This practice will also prepare you mentally for all the negative circumstances you’ll face at some point down the road.
Focus on What You Can Control
Another simple practice that can improve your physical and mental health revolves around focusing on the Stoic principle of control, or lack thereof.
Let’s use health as an example.
When it comes to our health, we spend so much time and energy worrying about factors that are beyond our control—why doesn’t my body look like [insert name of co-worker, celebrity or ex’s new foot model partner here] or what happens if I get [insert name of incredibly rare condition or disease I just found out about here]?
Remember, stoicism is all about accepting that many things are beyond our control and working to make the most of the few things that are. If you can learn to focus your efforts on making the body you were given look, feel and operate as efficiently as possible, without getting bogged down in the many, many aspects of the human condition that are beyond your control, well, then, you’ll be taking a Stoic approach to your health.
And chances are, you’ll be happier because you did.
You know that feeling of calm you get when you sit at the beach, allowing the sand to slide effortlessly between your toes? How about letting all your troubles fade away as you walk barefoot on a dewy lawn on a spring day? Turns out, those moments may not only bring you bliss; they could benefit your overall health, too.
What Exactly Is Earthing?
Earthing, or grounding, is the practice of absorbing electrons from the Earth into your body. By absorbing these electrons, you can improve everything from sleep issues to hormone levels to better blood circulation, according to the experts.
So how exactly does all this work?
“The Earth has a natural electric charge, based on lightning strikes and other meteorological phenomenon,” explains Martin Zucker, coauthor of “Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever?” “Humans are highly conductive, and when the skin of our bodies contacts the Earth, we create a mind-body-Earth connection.”
Zucker says that the Earth has an “unlimited reservoir of electrons” that are critical to “the operation of our cells and ourselves.” These electrons from the Earth are able to neutralize free radicals in the body that contribute to health issues such as inflammatory conditions and diseases.
In other words, the electrons from the Earth have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and we can apparently harness this energy by making direct contact with the Earth’s surface, either by going barefoot outdoors or by using grounding products, such as blankets, wristbands and floor mats.
Indoor grounding products are made of conductive materials and used via a grounded wall outlet or an earthing ground rod that’s placed outside, Zucker describes.
Since not everyone has access to safe outdoor space, Zucker says these products provide a way for people to reap the benefits of earthing from their desk, their couch or even their bed.
Benefits of Earthing
Integrative pain and rehabilitation specialist Tina Michaud-Gray not only practices earthing with her family, she also uses it for her patients. “It really helps accelerate the healing process,” she says.
Earthing cannot only be used as an anti-aging remedy, but also can assist people who have been living with illness or chronic pain, Michaud-Gray adds. Being one with nature, whether it’s outdoors or via other earthing methods, is a “primal need….our bodies, minds, and spirits require it,” she says.
While results vary from person-to-person (one person may see rapid changes within a week, while another may see subtler health benefits over a longer period of time), Zucker says that earthing “creates a new normal in the body.”
Though there are some skeptics to the practice, there is evidence to back up these claims. “Emerging evidence shows that contact with the Earth—whether being outside barefoot or indoors connected to grounded conductive systems—may be a simple, natural, and yet profoundly effective environmental strategy” against issues like chronic stress, inflammation and pain, as well as common health disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, a 2012 study concluded (1).
Whether you’re hoping to gain more energy, heal a wound or combat an illness, earthing may just help improve your overall well-being. As Michaud-Gray puts it, “It’s right there at your feet…literally.”
Have you ever felt a little bit too connected to the rest of the world? Do you wake up and immediately disappear into a cycle of social media apps, news sources and targeted advertisements that seem to follow you throughout the day? If so, you’re not alone.
Technological advancements are happening faster and faster with each passing year, integrating gadgets like smartphones and tablets further into our everyday routines. While there are countless benefits to these inventions (1), people are becoming more aware of the cost of always being connected.
Internet addiction is very real (2). Well before Twitter and iPhones began to dominate popular culture, researchers, academics and behavioral therapists started recognizing a problem (3). When the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was published in 2013, psychiatrists listed internet addiction disorder as a condition recommended for further study (4).
You might not feel addicted to the internet per se, but there are plenty of reasons to think about a digital detox. If you need some help unplugging, consider these tips.
1. Cut Back in Small Increments
Depending on how ingrained your devices are in your everyday life, you might experience a bit of difficulty getting the process started. You might find yourself saying, “I’ll start tomorrow,” so many times that you feel like you’re never going to switch off. This is because suddenly breaking free from sites like Facebook and the 24-hour news cycle can fill you with a sense of something missing from your life. Cold turkey might be an effective method when you’re looking to quit smoking, but this is slightly different. Baby steps and small cuts will go much farther (5).
While you might not believe you are addicted to the internet, cutting everything out at once might be too much of a shock. It may sound strange, but there are documented cases of people entering states of psychosis due to unplugging (6). Whether you’re afraid of having a bad reaction or you worry that FOMO levels will shoot through the roof if you’re not glued to your phone, you should introduce changes to your digital habits at a pace that works for you.
2. Deactivate or Delete a Social Media Account
Social media is one of the biggest issues people have with the internet these days. When first introduced in their current form a little over a decade ago, social media websites seemed innocuous enough. Cut to the present, and the news is flooded with politicians fighting on Twitter (7), Snapchat getting into one PR nightmare after another (8) and Facebook essentially mining and selling off user information in secrecy for years (9). When looking for a digital detox, you undoubtedly have considered removing yourself from the social media equation altogether.
Here’s the truth: there is no such thing as “limiting social media usage.” Sadly, it’s all or nothing. If you hold an active account, research shows you are going to log back in even if it is a subconscious action of habit. What’s worse, being depressed can increase the odds of you caving and logging back in (10). In order to break free, you need to commit to deleting an account. Luckily, with so many different sites out there, you can easily get rid of most and hold on to one to check at your leisure. Cutting back on how many accounts you have can lower the pressure to stay socially connected that these apps have instilled.
3. Get Rid of Non-Essential Apps
Take a broader look at the programs you run on your phone, computer or tablet each day. Which of these applications do you feel are essential to going about your routine? You might need to use your email app frequently for work, making it more essential than an app you use exclusively to shop. In order for you to appreciate a digital detox, you should limit yourself to apps you absolutely need.
When all is said and done, you actually don’t need any of your apps to survive. Until a phone can provide shelter, sustenance and improved health, it remains a tool for making other aspects of life easier. In determining which apps are essential, you will have an easier time cutting out any programs that only serve to distract, agitate or waste your time.
4. Read a Book Before Bed
A number of academic institutions have been putting intense research into how daily smartphone usage impacts basic functions of the body. One study that made a lot of waves revealed that the soft, blue light emitted by smartphones actually “tricks” the mind into thinking it is receiving sunlight. This confuses the body’s internal rhythms and can easily cause insomnia and other sleep issues (11).
Though you might enjoy looking at your phone while hanging around in your bed before slumber, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by cutting out this habit. Instead, grab a good old-fashioned book off the shelves. Even if you aren’t an avid reader, looking at a paper with words on it instead of a glowing box can help lull you to sleep without messing with your circadian rhythm.
5. Improve Short-Term Memory
Another great way to begin detoxing from the digital world is by actively working to improve some of the areas where technology has an adverse effect. Research in this area suggests smartphones and similar devices impair an average individual’s attention, which, in turn, compromises short-term memory storage (12). In other words, it is much harder to remember details of your day and get tasks done when you’re constantly looking at your phone.
By removing your phone from the equation for a few hours each day, you can give yourself a bit of time to restore your mental faculties to a place you’d prefer. Play brain games or write in a journal for a bit to get your mind working. A cup of green tea is packed with antioxidants and can also help to improve how your mind functions in relation to memory (13).
6. Dedicate Time to a Hobby
The idea of “free time” is kind of funny. When your life feels overwhelmingly busy, you might imagine you don’t have a second to spare. Now, try and think about how many hours you waste aimlessly scrolling through the same posts online. Adding all that time together might reveal some startling findings about how much time you would actually have for your passions if you unplugged.
Dedicating time to a hobby or skill you want to hone is the only way to get better at it. If you’ve been dying to learn a new language, play an instrument or take a painting class, this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. The minutes you free up by removing yourself from the digital world can help you chase some of the dreams you’ve left sitting on the backburner.
7. Experience the World
Finally, there is a lot to be said about leaving your phone in the house and taking a long walk, run or ride (14). Often, it is far easier to lose oneself on Wikipedia than in nature. The world is a vast and varied place filled with wonders and oddities. Instead of reading about it on the internet, unplug and get out there for a bit. Though you might find yourself reaching for your phone to take pictures of everything you see, remember your mind is also a wonderful place to store a treasured moment or image.
A digital detox might seem more like a lifestyle choice, but overwhelming evidence suggests it is a great move for your health. Discover which tactic works best for you, and get ready to unplug and relax.
For anyone who has suffered a panic attack, you know that while the episode may only last a few moments, it can feel like an eternity.
No matter what triggered you, whether it was bumping into an ex at a party or feeling overwhelmed in a crowd at a concert, the overwhelming feeling of shortness of breath, the tightness in your chest and the overall sense of doom can be terrifying.
“A panic attack is the stress response going into overdrive due to a perceived threat, and that can take all kinds of forms,” explains psychotherapist and meditation instructor Ralph De La Rosa.
Once you know what your triggers are and can sense a panic attack coming on, there are steps you can take to stop one in its tracks. Symptoms of a panic attack may also include hallucinations, claustrophobia and a sense of surreality.
By catching a panic attack in its early phase, De La Rosa says, “we have the agency to impact our emotional state.”
“The first order of business is awareness,” he says. By acknowledging what (or who) has the potential to set off a panic attack, you can work from there to derail it.
Breathing Exercises for Anxiety
Once you feel the onslaught of distressing thoughts and emotions, it’s time to practice your breath work, De La Rosa explains. “The simplest breath work is big, deep belly breaths in which you inhale low beneath the belly, to the navel, and slowly exhale through the mouth.”
Mindfulness breathing can also be an incredibly helpful tool for those who suffer from panic attacks. This form of breathing entails “little by little, letting go of all effort with the breath and elongating the space between breaths,” De La Rosa explains.
In fact, the spaces between the breaths become more important than the actual breaths, De La Rosas says. “Let the exhale go out with no pushing…the belly relaxes and goes out and softens. Let the inhale tell you when it wants to come, the next exhale will happen naturally, and it shepherds the inhale and exhale.”
This type of breathing, he says, “slows the heart rate, regulates the nervous system and halts anxious thoughts. “
Reframing Your Thoughts
But breathing isn’t the only aspect of stopping panic attack: there’s also your perception of the moment itself. “How you talk to yourself and frame or perceive the situation is huge,” De La Rosa says. “We can re-frame a situation however we want.”
In the case of a panic attack, De La Rosa suggests using it as a moment of growth and learning. When you feel a panic attack beginning, frame it as an opportunity to practice how you use your skills in combating your disorder. “Re-frame the cognition around the attack from stressful, irritating and fearful to one of interest, curiosity and meaning,” he says.
When you find meaning or purpose in something like a panic attack, you take away its power over you.
Getting Through a Panic Attack
But let’s say even with this knowledge, a panic attack still gets the better of you? Well, remember, that’s OK, and you can work through that episode by allowing it to happen and by being kind to yourself in the process.
“When we fight our negative emotions, especially something like a panic attack, it can add a second layer of stress,” De La Rosa says. “Relate to the emotion, hold the emotion and look at it with some level of empathy, gentleness and kindness. The emotions pass along much quicker when we add that ingredient to the mix.”
Even though you shouldn’t try to avoid a panic attack while it’s occurring, you can excuse yourself to the restroom to regain your composure and have some privacy, De La Rosa recommends.
Most importantly, whether you’re working toward stopping a panic attack before it starts or you’re enduring one, De La Rosa says the key is to “look at the panic and feel compassion for yourself and your situation.”
Article written by Joe Palinsky
Once the dazzling colors of autumn have faded and the temperature has begun its shift in colder directions, it means winter has arrived. While the end of the year tends to get people all caught up in the excitement of the holidays, the winter also has a way of taking away a person’s motivation. Whether you are someone who suffers from seasonal depression or you can’t seem to find the mental energy to be productive on a bitterly chilly day, it can be almost impossible to get anything done.
If you are trying to break the mold this winter and be the most productive version of yourself, you might need a bit of help. Follow these suggestions to stay as motivated as possible this season.
1.) Consume Quality Foods
What you eat plays a huge part in the way you feel throughout the season. The short days and freezing temperatures of the winter tend to push people towards specific food groups. “Comfort foods” are popular at this time of year because they can make a person feel safe and content. Unfortunately, these dishes are usually packed with butter and fat. Though you might feel inclined to make a huge batch of macaroni and cheese every night, your motivation requires something a bit more nourishing.
Maintaining a productive lifestyle is a challenge in the winter because many people face depression or decreased moods. For some, this comes from a lack of exposure to sunlight. To counteract this, it can be in your best interests to eat meals loaded with Vitamin D. Salmon, yogurt, and tofu are all excellent choices. By consuming a healthy amount of Vitamin D throughout the winter, you are more likely to feel motivated, have a strengthened immune system, and keep your metabolism running efficiently.
2.) Life is Company
Feeling less motivated in the winter can be detrimental to your life in a number of ways. For one, you are not going to want to take on personal projects or engage in hobbies you normally find appealing. It also stands to reason you’ll want to stay home and limit your social interactions. This is no coincidence. According to several studies, people feel less social when there is an absence of warm light for extended periods. Though it might be natural to limit your social interactions at this time of year, it actually adds to depression.
Winter can be isolating. Since you might not be planning on going out after work as much as you did in the summer, you need to find ways to interact with others whenever possible. Small steps like making the decision to meet with friends for lunch on a Saturday or spend some extra time talking with coworkers at the start of the workday can be great moves. The more you interact with other people on a daily basis, even if it is only your local barista, the more likely it is you will feel motivated to be productive.
3.) Fight the Sickness
A lack of motivation is not the only issue people deal with in the winter. Colder weather also makes it far easier for germs to spread, with influenza and the common cold being most prevalent between December and March. Since coming down with a cold can easily ruin any motivation you have drummed up, you want to go above and beyond to stay as healthy as possible. A bowl of oatmeal each morning can provide your body with fiber and zinc, both which aid in keeping your body regular and well.
Foods high in Vitamin C should also make appearances on your plate throughout the season. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, oranges, spinach, and tomatoes are all practical choices.
4.) Get Out and Move
Finally, nothing beats exercise when it comes to staying motivated. Getting off the couch and heading to the gym for a workout might feel like an impossible feat in the winter but it can make a huge difference in your mood. The more you engage with your body, the less likely you are to feel stuck in a rut. Exercise releases endorphins, allowing for an improved mood and a newfound feeling of self-worth.
Winter can be harsh and unforgiving. To stay one step ahead of the blues that come from this time of year, remember to motivate yourself in the right ways. Eat foods rich in both Vitamin C and D, exercise regularly, and keep social to make it through the winter in one piece.
Joe Palinsky is a full-time writer and theater professional in Philadelphia. He predominantly works with ensemble-based Found Theater Company, where his writing has been featured in numerous productions. Though primarily a ghostwriter, his work has been published in the now-defunct Spirit News and as a guest on Found Theater’s blog.
Article Written by Jessica Thiefels
“Mindfulness” is a buzzword we can’t seem to ignore any longer because it’s more than just a passing trend. In fact, this concept is rooted in ancient Eastern customs and culture and, when practiced regularly, can have a wide variety of holistic benefits that strengthen the mind, body and spirit.
Greater Good Magazine defines this term as “moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment.” This mental exercise grounds us in the present, enables us to observe our inner selves without judgment, and keeps our focus off the “white noise” of this distracted, hyper-frenetic world.
I know what you’re thinking: “But I can’t just sit still for 20 minutes; I’ve tried meditation, I just can’t do it.” The good news is you don’t have to sit still to reap the benefits of mindfulness. If you want to experience more balance and peace in your own life, these sports are ideal for practicing mindfulness and getting a workout at the same time.
Cycling engages the mind-body connection in several capacities, from the physical act of steering and pedaling to the mental drill of pushing through challenges, finding your pace and anticipating the route ahead.
“Every aspect of cycling can become a meditation,” suggests Nick Moore, author of Mindful Thoughts for Cyclists. He explains that preparing for a ride “has its own rituals that switch us unconsciously from civilian to cyclist—a mental shift of gears in which we transition from one energy state to another, from the potential to the kinetic.” And after, “giving the bike a rub-down, re-lube and once-over is a chance to decompress and gather our thoughts.”
Take your cycling outside for even greater mental health benefits. If you can only cycle in a gym or your home, stay in tune with your body and your breathing to maintain mindfulness.
The elements of competition and self-awareness that are prevalent in tennis work to keep your attention engaged in the action and energy of the court rather than your mind. According to a discipline known as Mindfulness-Based Tennis Psychology, this practice “enhances overall performance by increasing an athlete’s ability to function ‘in the zone,’ by sharpening concentration” to hone both “accuracy and precision.”
The Huffington Post also reports that tennis champion Novak Djokovic uses mindfulness in this tennis to release self-doubt, anger and worry, a skill he deems “just as important as physical training.”
You can play tennis alone against a wall, or with a partner; in either case, you may not have to try very hard to maintain mindfulness in this game. The game will keep you naturally focused on breath and movement.
Running has a way of giving you clarity and focus as you move to the rhythm of your footfalls and feel the deepness of your breath. That may be why 22 percent of runners said they started running as a natural form of stress-relief, according to a 2017 runners poll by Fit2Run.
This type of movement leaves room for “reflection and exploration,” suggests Runner’s World, making it the perfect way to practice active mindfulness. Tune into the repetitive motion that engages both the upper- and lower-body and listen to your feet as they strike the ground. Take note of how that feels, as your foot flows from heel to toe and back into the air again.
This less popular sport is rooted in the “kyudo” tradition of samurai warriors and has been described as a “moving meditation” to synchronize and bring about a sense of equilibrium to a person’s inner world. “Kyudo [which means ‘way of the bow’] is infused with philosophical influences…making it a ritualistic practice,” explains Archery360.
This unique form of archery eliminates all outside diversions to “symbolize leaving your worries at the door.” Instead, you enter the practice range, uninhibited from stressors with a clarity of “pure heart and mind.” The precision needed to align your stance, engage your isometric muscles, then fixate on the target is both an intuitive and immersive experience.
To enjoy this active meditation, look for a local archery school or class, which you may be able to find at a local college or recreation center.
The breathing sequence of “inhale, exhale, lift, hold, pause and repeat” is a powerful way to activate active meditation during your workout. Tuning into yourself in the weight room, finding stillness in the sound of barbells making contact with a metal rack or the feel of your biceps protruding under a heavy mass, boosts strength, both mental and physical.
Ayurveda expert Larissa Carlson suggests that by noticing the “sensation of muscles contracting and releasing, the roughness of your skin against the weight or the sweat trickling down your back,” it’s possible to achieve a posture she calls “meditation in motion.”
Start Moving Mindfully
Find time for these activities in your regular fitness routine—but don’t expect mindfulness to come naturally. Tune into your breath, make note of how your muscles are feeling, and connect breath with movement as much as possible. Soon, this mindful active state will come naturally, and you’ll leave very workout feeling that familiar post-yoga bliss that comes with focusing on breath and our bodies.
Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a full-time writer, ACE Certified Personal Trainer and NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition specialist. She’s also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Honest Body Fitness, an online health magazine for women who are fed up with being told how to look and how to get there, yet still don’t feel like enough. She’s written for Shape, Reader’s Digest, AARP, Snap Fitness, 24 Hour Fitness and more. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for health articles, workouts tips and more.
Aromatherapy is so much more than cleverly named and pleasant smelling candles. When practiced correctly, and to the fullest, aromatherapy has the potential to not only enhance and elevate moods but positively alter fundamental brain functions in amazing ways.
With another summer firmly in our rearview, and with several months of colder weather and darker days ahead, now is a great time to unlock the full slate of healing and rejuvenating benefits aromatherapy can offer. Whether you work in an office or stay at home with your littles, get through these hectic times with these essential oil blends that will have you feeling laser-focused and ready to conquer the world (or just back to school season).
Memory & Concentration Blend
This blend uses rosemary essential oil which is known for boosting memory and concentration. Throw in some lemon essential oil to heighten the senses and you’ve got yourself a dynamic pairing that will keep you on point all day.
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
3 drops rosemary essential oil
3 drops lemon essential oil
Pour the carrier oil (jojoba) in a glass dropper bottle or a roller bottle. Then add your essential oils. With essential oils it’s important to remember that a little goes a long way. Just add a drop or two and rub on your temples.
Crunchy Concentration Blend
Calling all bohemians! Sandalwood is the star of this earthy blend that provides a sense of clarity and pairs well with the calming effect of patchouli.
1 tablespoon of coconut oil melted
2 drops of sandalwood
2 drops of patchouli essential oil
2 drops of orange essential oil
Pour the carrier oil (coconut) in a glass dropper bottle or a roller bottle. Then add your essential oils. When using, a little goes a long way. Just add a drop or two and rub on your wrists.
Fresh Focus Blend
Knock out brain fog with frankincense. Applying frankincense topically can work wonders for you mood and peppermint puts pep in your step and improves concentration.
1 tablespoon of almond oil
3 drops of frankincense
3 drops peppermint essential oil
Pour the carrier oil (almond) in a glass dropper bottle or a roller bottle. Then add your essential oils. You only need a few dabs to feel the effects. Just add a drop or two and rub on your wrists.
We have all caught ourselves worrying about our busy lives. Wake up, make breakfast, pack lunch, get the kids off to school, go to work, finish the big project at work, pick the kids up from school, take one kid to music lessons and another to practice, make dinner, do the laundry…the list goes on. Whatever fills your day, thinking about the exhaustive list of tasks and chores is likely to cause stress and anxiety, which can lead to health issues. What if we stopped worrying about everything that needs to get done and instead focused our attention on the present moment? The moment we’re actively experiencing. This is mindfulness: being present in your everyday life.
Practicing mindfulness means paying attention to your experiences, both physical and mental, and not judging them. This means instead of rejecting a feeling because it is “bad” or “good,” you learn to cope with it by not labeling it. For example, maybe you are working on a big project at work and you start to feel your heart racing as you realize the deadline is approaching. In mindfulness, you acknowledge the fact that your heart is racing, but don’t judge the feeling. Just acknowledge it’s there and accept it. While mindfulness is most often associated with meditation, the two don’t have to coexist. The best thing about incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine is that you can do it anywhere!
Benefits to consider of mindfulness:
- May help reduce anxiety and depression
- Improves focus and cognition
- Enhances emotional regulation and control
- Helps promote stress reduction while allowing the brain to become more adaptive to stressful or negative situations.
- Lower stress levels are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved immune function, lower blood sugar levels and reduced risk of early mortality.
- Enhanced self-insight, morality, intuition and the ability to modulate fear.
- May help improve sleep and reduce insomnia
- People who practice mindfulness report more positive moods
- May help reduce pain
What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
- There is a lot of overlap between mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is specifically the awareness of what is going on that present moment. It can be both a formal or informal practice. For instance, mindfulness is stopping to breathe when the phone rings versus rushing to immediately answer it. Just because you are mindful of your experiences does not mean you are meditating. Just as there are many forms of meditations, there are many ways to define the practice as well.
- Meditation is the formal practice that encourages relaxation and attaining a state of consciousness different from your normal, waking state. One of the most common forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, you set aside time to intentionally pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment, bringing awareness to your breath, body and mind without judging any thoughts that come and pass.
Ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life
We all live busy lives. Being mindful doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stop what you are doing to meditate. Here some ways to bring attention to your daily routines:
- Eating: Focus your attention on your meal. Invoke all your senses. How does the food smell? What is the taste and texture? What does it look like? Take note of all the colors on the plate. Be present at the meal without watching TV or scrolling through your phone.
- Walking: Mindful walking means being aware of every step you take. Take note to how your feet strike the ground and your specific, heal-to-toe rhythm. Notice the muscles in the legs and how your hips move. Is there any discomfort? If so that’s OK, remember not to judge! Take note to your breath, every inhale and exhale. Bring attention to your surroundings.
- Mindfulness meditation (the body scan): There are plenty of ways to meditate. One of my favorites is the body scan. The core of almost any meditation is the breath, so start your focus there, noticing the rise and fall of your stomach and the change in temperature from inhale to exhale. As you relax, bring focus to your head. Note any sensations on the top of your head, maybe there is tension in your scalp or you feel a draft. After a few minutes, shift your focus to your face, then neck, shoulders, arms, chest etc. until you have reached your feet. Always remember your mind is allowed to wander. If you have a thought pop up, simply acknowledge it without judgment and recognize that your mind has wandered off, and then return to your awareness back to your breath or scan. Start with a couple of minutes each day and increase over time.
- Showering: The shower is a perfect time to relax and forget about past and future events to focus on the now. As you stand in the shower, take note the temperature of the water, how does the water feel as it hits your body? Be mindful of the smell of your shower gel, soap or shampoo, the feeling of your hand or wash cloth passing through your hair or over your skin. Listen to the sound the water makes as it hits the shower floor. Take note to any thoughts that come up while you’re in the shower—remembering the importance of not passing judgment on them. Lastly, notice the feeling of the towel as you dry yourself off.
- Teeth brushing: Become mindful of the taste and texture of your toothpaste, the sensation in your arms as they go from side to side. Take note of the pressure of your feet on the surface of the bathroom floor.
In the digital world we live in, there are many apps that can help you incorporate mindfulness into your day. Just like anything else we do, learning mindfulness takes practice. Take some time today to be mindful and see how it can improve your day!
How many times have you gone to bed determined to wake up, early only to hit “snooze” five times before finally getting up and bolting out the door? I am far from an “up-with-the-sun” kind of person, but getting in the practice of rising earlier gave me more time to clear the morning brain fog and get energized for a productive day.
Here are my 8 tips for creating and actually sticking to a morning routine that enhances your mood and focus all day long!
1. Define your “why”
Why are you getting up so early? Defining your purpose is key to finding motivation to get out from under the covers. Maybe you want to clean your room, squeeze in a run or yoga session, or work on the novel you always wanted to write. Whatever your motive, write it down, set a phone reminder and make it a priority so you don’t have to think when the alarm sounds!
2. Set yourself up for success
When you’re half-awake, pressed for time and willpower is low, limiting your morning tasks and responsibilities the night before is helpful. While this seems like a no-brainer, actually making sure our clothes are laid out, lunch is packed, dishes are done and the laundry is folded before hitting the pillow is easier said than done.
3. Write something
Setting aside time to put pen to paper in the morning is the equivalent of a cup of coffee for a creative brain. Believe it or not, creativity peaks in the morning while the analytical side of our mind is still snoozing, allowing for a free flow of thoughts and ideas. Even if you’re job doesn’t demand a ton of creative thinking, giving your brain an early workout will allow you to hit the ground running once you’re at your desk.
4. Create an energizing environment
My favorite part about mornings is waking up and feeling happy in my space and connected with myself. I light a few candles or throw on my diffuser to gently wake up my senses and soak in the aromatherapy benefits. Make your space one that’s clear of clutter and distractions so you can wake up feeling stress-free. Try opening the curtains for some natural light or listening to a podcast or upbeat music while you get ready. Fill your environment with the good vibes you want to exude all day long!
5. If you can’t work out, stretch out
Exercising first thing is a great way to boost energy levels all day long, but if you’re not morning workout person, don’t sweat it (pun intended)! Instead, block out some time (preferably right after you wake up) to stretch out and get your blood flowing. The American Council on Exercise says stretching in the morning can reduce aches, pains and lead to greater amounts of energy and focus throughout the day.
6. Take your time with your coffee
In many cultures, the morning cup is a daily ritual meant to be savored and enjoyed. Don’t settle for blah tasting coffee or tea that’s just a shortcut to caffeine. Pour a cup of superfood spiked coffee to start your day with some essential fats and nutrients as well as a healthy jolt. If tea is more your style, try savoring earthy, herbal teas in the morning to stimulate your senses and help feel more grounded. You’ll be amazed at how the simple luxury of a good morning cup can enhance your mood all day.
7. Break from the screens & set intentions
When you jump right into e-mails, news updates and Facebook over breakfast, it can be over-stimulating and your morning time shifts to the needs of others. I like to silence my phone and set my own personal intentions for the day. I use this time to create to-do lists and write out my goals for the day and week. Taking the time each day to focus on yourself and your tasks puts you in an organized, productive mindset early, and visualizing your goals keeps your days filled with purpose!
8. Reward yourself!
Have one part of your routine that you absolutely love and look forward to each day. For me, sitting down to a podcast over my morning cup of tea and bone broth collagen smoothie is my reward for getting up early and giving myself extra time to settle into the day. Maybe you make time to read, make a tasty breakfast or stop for a good cup of coffee on your way to work. Saving time for little indulgences will boost your mood for the day and create an incentive to do it all again tomorrow!
Remember to keep your morning goals realistic and flexible. While you should hold yourself accountable to sticking to a routine, be patient with yourself and treat it like a practice: it’s okay if you miss a day so long as you get back to it tomorrow!
What are your favorite morning routines and rituals? Let’s talk about it in the comments!
For most of us, New Year’s “resolutions” — those well-meaning actions plans of self-improvement — are, if we’re being realistic here, better off re-branded as New Year’s “intentions”. It may just be a minor semantical difference but a “resolution” implies a solemn pact — a pledge of unwavering commitment that a simple “intention” does not. If you intend to live to 100 it just kind of means that you expect to do so, whereas resolving to live to 100 means that you’re ready to put in the work to make it happen! In that spirit, we’ve laid out some tips on how to make your best New Year’s intentions a reality.
Be realistic – Nothing happens overnight either. Don’t think if you quitting smoking or give up sweets that this will all happen in the same month. Set realistic goals to achieve. Try monthly check-ins with yourself at 1-, 3- and 6-month intervals and track your progress.
Create a Vision Board– Once you set that goal, back it up with a vision board, which helps clarify your thinking and provides some concrete imagery to help inspire and keep you on track. If you’re resolving to lead a healthier lifestyle then seek images of what that looks like to you. A vision board can definitely sharpen your goal-setting focus as well as what success looks like for you.
Don’t Do it Alone – The age old saying is true, “Together Everyone Achieves More.” Having a partner in your quests makes it way more likely that you’ll achieve your goals. Hey, why not host a vision board party where everyone can create their visions of their better selves? This would be a perfect gathering after all the gluttonous holiday festivities.
Practice Self-love – When you feel down and discouraged, remind yourself of how much you’ve accomplished. Turn up the will power and make a list of 10 things you’re proud of. That will get your spirits lifted in no time.
The Power of Imagery – Tufts University psychologist Christopher Willard, Psy.D. explains the craving center of our brain is highly susceptible to visuals. Trying to lose weight? Keep a picture of yourself at your goal weight on your bathroom mirror to remind yourself that you CAN get there.
If you’re feeling restless and wound up after another hectic day of juggling your daily stresses, think about steeping back and relaxing with a warm cup of tea! Feel your stress and anxiety melt away with every sip of one of our favorite types of tea listed below.
Chamomile has been shown in multiple studies to reduce stress and anxiety in patients. How does it do it? One of its potent flavonoids, chrysin, gives it it’s sleep-inducing properties. While another compound, apigenin, helps induce a feeling of gentle, pleasant sedation. Bonus — chamomile is safe for kids too, and could help calm an anxious or overactive child. It has also been shown to help with other ailments such as colds and stomach aches. This tea combines chamomile with lavender for an extra dose of chill.
Valerian’s relaxing nature is why it has enjoyed a long history as a mild sedative. Known as “nature’s valium”, valerian has been shown to really take the edge off. A 2005 study reported in the journal Sleep, showed clinically proven results for sleeplessness. We suggest a trifecta of relaxation with this tea that blends valerian with passion flower and lemon balm. Speaking of…
Lemon Balm has been used medicinally going way back to when the ancient Greeks prescribed it for those suffering from insomnia and anxiety. This culinary herb appears to reduce cortisol – also known as the “stress hormone” — concentrations and helps blunt the effect of enzymes that inhibit GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) production, a neurotransmitter that helps the brain to self-soothe.
Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Holy Basil, also known as tulsi, is a well-known Ayurvedic herb that grows all over the eastern tropics. Ayerveda medicine says that tulsi can promote overall general health and well-being due to its adaptogenic effects, and a recent study showed extracts of this herb reduced general anxiety disorder along with stress and depression. We really love this brand that uses completely recycled packaging and bleaches their tea bags with oxygen rather than chlorine, which causes less damage to the environment. That’s something you can relax about.
Do you have a favorite tea you use to relax at night? Let us know in the comments!