Sleep tips for health & wellness

It’s a fact that most of us don’t get enough sleep and we know that insufficient sleep can have a variety of negative impacts on our health. So now, with the threat of a novel coronavirus and the stress caused by the pandemic situation, getting enough sleep is even more important. Sleep is essential to the proper functioning of our immune systems and helps mitigate the effects of stress on our body and mind. We’re here to provide you with some of our best tips to help you get enough sleep to support your mind and body.

1. Limit screen time

There is no shortage of scientific evidence showing that the blue light generated by electronics like tablets, smart phones, laptops, and TVs disrupts our sleep even for a while after we’ve turned them off. The best ways to eliminate that threat to our sleep is to keep all screens out of the bedroom and limit the time you spend on them before bed time. Ideally, it’s best to turn those screens off at least 30 minutes before bed – an hour is even better.

2. Create a bedtime routine

Try to create a bedtime routine for yourself. Start it at the same time each night and repeat the same steps. It doesn’t have to be complicated but you need to do it consistently. Having a consistent bedtime routine over time primes your body and mind for sleep. Your body and mind know sleep is coming when you start this routine and they’re ready for it. This makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night.

3. Practice good sleep hygiene

Removing the screens is part of this but there is more to good sleep hygiene, which essentially refers to keeping an appropriate sleep environment. For example, our bodies are programmed to sleep best in the dark. So getting your bedroom as dark as you are able to is important. The climate in your room also makes a difference. Our bodies prefer cooler ambient temperatures for sleeping – between 60 & 67 degrees F. That doesn’t mean that you can’t snuggle up under some fluffy blankets, it just means that you shouldn’t have your room super warm as well. Keeping an appropriate room temperature makes it less likely that you will wake up because you are uncomfortable.

4. Practice gratitude

One of the exercises that I give my clients who often struggle to get to sleep at night is writing a nightly gratitude list. Each night before bed, simply write down 5-10 things you are grateful for that day. The practice of doing this takes your mind out of the muck and mire of stress and puts you in a more relaxed place so it’s easier to get to sleep.

5. Get all the junk out of your head

Another exercise I give my clients who struggle with sleep is a to-do list brain dump. If you are the type who lies down and finds their mind racing or wakes up at 2 am worrying about forgetting to do something tomorrow, this is a great trick for you. Before you head to bed for the night, write down everything you need to do the next day – even down to the little stuff like washing the dishes. This will take all of those things out of your head and will remove that anxiety around forgetting to do something. You could also keep that list nearby on the off-chance that you do wake up in the middle of the night remembering something else you need to do.

Following these tips should help you get a better night’s sleep, leaving you feeling more energized, your immune system working better, and your body and mind more resilient.

Foods to Support Immunity & Stress Relief

As we’ve seen over these past several weeks, people are flocking to the grocery store to stock up on supplies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing social distancing policies. Toilet paper and sanitizer are obviously at the tops of people’s lists, but have you considered the food you’re buying? In times like this, the inclination is often highly-processed foods with a long shelf life, but these aren’t the best options for supporting your immune system and mitigating the effects of stress on your body. 

We’re here to discuss some of the food items that you may want to consider purchasing during this time of crisis, rather than just bread, milk, eggs, and pasta. Obviously these items may vary depending on any dietary needs or restrictions, but hopefully it will give you some ideas for foods that can really support the health of you and your family.

But first, let’s give you some general information about what makes the following foods so beneficial.  

The Power of Plants

When it comes to the best foods to be eating right now, plants are where it’s at. Fruits and veggies are loaded with beneficial compounds called phytonutrients, which act as antioxidants and support healthy body function, including immunity. Phytonutrients are what give the produce its bright colors, so the more different colors you eat, the greater variety of phytonutrients you’re consuming.

Low Stress Foods

We are currently under a tremendous amount of stress, which means that our bodies are experiencing very high levels of the stress hormone cortisol consistently. Cortisol is not only the stress hormone, but is also involved in a wide range of other processes such as the body’s inflammatory response, blood sugar regulation, sleep cycles, blood pressure, and memory function. Because of its involvement in these other processes, having it chronically sitting at high levels can have far-reaching health impacts.

Eating a lot of processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and simple carbohydrates can exacerbate the effects of stress by triggering cortisol responses in our body. Eating mostly low-stress foods, such as fresh produce, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates (ie whole and minimally processed foods) can help mitigate those effects and won’t have the same dramatic impacts on cortisol levels.

What’s on Our Grocery List

Frozen Fruits

Frozen fruits and veggies are nearly identical nutritionally to fresh ones.  Some frozen fruits that we recommend are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and mangos. You can get big packages of these pre-frozen fruits, which will keep for about 6-9 months. Be sure to check the expiration dates on the packages you are buying, though. You can also freeze sliced bananas for use in smoothies. Simply cut it into slices and store in a sealed container. 

Ideas for use: 

  • Smoothies are a great way to make sure you’re eating enough fruits and veggies. Here are a couple of our favorite recipes:
    • 1 cup mixed berries, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 handful baby spinach, 1 cup frozen cauliflower rice. Add water and blend to desired consistency.
    • 1/2 cup frozen mango, 1/2 frozen banana, 1/2 cup old fashioned oats, 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower rice, unsweetened almond milk. Blend to desired consistency.
  • Use as a topping for overnight oats or cooked oats.

Frozen Vegetables

As with fruits, frozen vegetables will keep for a long time and pack a nutritional punch. Some frozen vegetables that we recommend you pick up are cauliflower (florets or riced), peas, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, and spinach. Again, keep an eye on expiration dates, but pre-frozen veggies are expected to keep for 8-10 months.

Ideas for use:

  • Add frozen cauliflower to your smoothies
  • Cauliflower rice & quinoa tacos – use the cauliflower-quinoa mixture in place of meat
  • Toss frozen bell peppers into a fry pan and cook to add them to an omelette.

Potatoes

Need a break from all the frozen veggies? Potatoes have got your back. They can be kept raw for up to 2-3 months in the proper conditions. They are also one of the most versatile vegetables, and have several different variations, so you never get sick of them! (At least, we never do.)

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet potato toasts with almond butter and cinnamon
  • Roasted sweet potato with over-easy eggs
  • Sweet potato mash with shredded coconut and maple syrup
  • Make your own veggie burger – it’s surprisingly simple: just cook the potatoes until soft, then toss them into a food processor with some seasoning and other veggies. Form them into patties and cook!

Dried or Canned Beans

Dried and canned legumes are also a great option for long-term storage. Dried beans are good for up to 2-3 years if stored properly. And canned beans can last 3-5 years. Just be sure to look for BPA-free cans when you’re shopping. These foods are a good source or fiber and protein. 

Ideas for use:

  • Rice & beans
  • Soups
  • Black bean dip

Nuts

Nuts are a great source of healthy fats and protein, and properly stored will keep for 6 months or longer. These make a great snack and can be used in meals as well.

Oats

Another great source of energy and fiber that can be kept dried for a significantly long period, oats are a versatile option that can be stored dry for up to 2 years.

Ideas for use:

  • Overnight or hot oats
  • Process in a food processor to use as flour in muffins
  • Make-your-own crazy granola recipe
  • Toss them in the blender with your smoothie ingredients to make a thicker, more satisfying smoothie

Quinoa

Quinoa is another nutritious food that you should stock up on. Unlike other plants, quinoa is a complete protein. It’s also a great source of fiber. Quinoa is simple to prepare and can take on almost any flavor profile. Dried quinoa can keep for 2-3 years when stored properly.

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet quinoa breakfast porridge
  • Quinoa pizza crust
  • Quinoa pilaf

Heartier Fruits and Veggies

You should also consider picking up some produce with a slightly longer shelf-life than less hearty options. For example, cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) can keep for a good chunk of time stored properly in the refrigerator. Citrus fruits and apples also tend to keep longer than fruits like bananas and berries, so those are options to consider as well.

 

It is a stressful and unprecedented situation that we have all been thrown into. While most of what is going on is far out of our control, we do get some say in the matter of our health and the way eat is a fantastic starting point. Try to remain calm and take precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe.  

 

*Please keep in mind that the time periods suggested to keep these items are general and you should always follow the product’s specific expiration dates*

3 Self-Care Tips for Social Distancing

We’ve all heard about how self-care is important for our health, but it’s particularly critical right now in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. This is a particularly stressful time for many of us and chronically high levels of stress can decrease our immune system function, increase inflammation in our bodies, disrupt our sleep, and more. Self-care is an essential step in mitigating the effects of chronic stress on our bodies.

First, it’s a misconception that self-care is just about relaxing and spa days. Yes, self-care can be about recharging and doing things you enjoy, but it’s also about protecting yourself and setting boundaries. In a time when a 1 minute scroll through your Facebook feed is enough to incite panic over toilet paper supplies, protective boundaries now are critical.

Self-Care Tip 1: Limit your news (and fake news) exposure

Now is a great time to either take a break from social media or limit how much time you spend on it. Likewise, limiting how much time you spend reading or watching the news is also a good idea. All of these headlines circulating and posts from your neighbors are draining, stressful, and depressing. While you need to stay informed, you also need to balance that with your mental and emotional health. Some options short of full-out cold turkey: Give yourself 30 minutes on social media a day, watch the morning or evening news and avoid reading news sites during the day, choose just one outlet to follow for news, or for every news article you read about coronavirus, read one fun thing (here are the Google Search results for funny kitten videos – you’re welcome).

Self-Care Tip 2: Re-focus on you

During this time of social distancing, we can become hyper-focused on the feelings of isolation…or on feelings of stress over having your children home from school for 2 weeks. Try to instead focus on finding ways to use this time to your benefit. Maybe it means sleeping in, taking advantage of the time to get outside and get some fresh air and Vitamin D, or working on a fun project you never have time for. This is a really stressful time and we can’t ignore the very real impacts that this is having on us, mentally, physically, financially. It’s important to carve out what turf we can for our well-being at this time.

Self-Care Tip 3: Energy flows where attention goes

Pay careful attention to how much energy you are giving to this pandemic situation. Is it the topic of all your conversations? Are your thoughts being taken over by worries? What is your motivation for the things you are doing daily – is it fear? We only have so much energy to go around and it has to come from somewhere, so ask yourself: where is it being drained from if you’re dedicating most of it to this stressful situation?

I suggest setting limits on how much you talk about this situation. Honestly, saying “I’d rather talk about something else” will probably be a relief to your conversation partner as well! If your thoughts are being overrun by worries, then taking a break or setting time limits on social media/the news will definitely be helpful. Practicing mindfulness activities will also help bring more awareness to those thought patterns and help you redirect.

 

We want to hear from you! How are you practicing self-care these days? Leave it in the comments! 

20 Self-Care Ideas that Aren’t Face Masks or Manis

Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword recently, evoking images of candles and spa settings. But there is very good reason for self-care to be becoming all the rage – it’s critical for your mental and physical health. It doesn’t have to be all sauna sessions, ayahuasca retreats, and overpriced merchandise from The Goop though. Self-care is much simpler and more practical than that. Self-care means giving yourself the space to recharge, the time to rest, the opportunity to break the monotony with something you truly enjoy. Most importantly, self-care is anything but selfish. Without it, it’s impossible to show up at your best for yourself and for those you care about.

What Self-Care is Not

One thing about self-care is that if it’s something you do because you have to as a responsible adult, then it’s not really self-care. Whenever I have a client say, “well I really like cleaning so that’s my self-care” or “I really enjoy cooking,” I ask them if it’s really enjoyable when they’re doing those things out of obligation even if they don’t feel like it. When you’re exhausted from a long week but you’re still cooking dinner for 3 other people when you’d prefer to order takeout, that’s not really caring for yourself and it sure as hell takes all the pleasure out of it. Self-care is not obligatory activities.

Some Ideas for Self-Care

If you are new to self-care (hello, rundown, busy, stretched-too-thin moms!), it can seem really difficult to come up with a self-care routine, especially if cleaning and cooking don’t cut it. But, as I said, self-care is much simpler than you think. Here are some ideas for self-care activities you can start engaging in right away.

    • Meditation – even just 5 minutes 
    • Read your favorite book
    • Journal
    • Art – whether it’s painting, knitting, drawing, coloring etc. (and, no, you don’t have to be good at it!)
    • Listen to your favorite song – especially helpful when you’re in a time crunch and need that pick-me-up
    • Listen to your favorite podcast – reserve some time away from your work to really enjoy it!
    • Watch your favorite show – I am the queen of horrible TV and it makes me so happy
    • Play an instrument/make music/sing
    • Bake – I see this as different from cooking because it’s rare that you HAVE to bake…unless you’re a baker
    • Go shopping
    • Call your best friend (yes, call, like on the phone)
    • Get some fresh air – go for a walk or sit outside and just enjoy the sunshine and air
    • Go for a drive (unless road rage is your thing)
    • Practice positive affirmations – another one that’s helpful when you’re in a pinch and only have a few moments. Check out these examples to get you started
    • Get your favorite workout in
    • Make time for some physical activity, like hiking, biking, etc. You can also share this with those you care about
    • Take an extra long, hot shower
    • Enjoy a cup of tea
    • Take a cat nap
    • Do a puzzle

reading

Managing Holiday Stress

It’s impossible to talk about health or healthy eating without also talking about stress. It’s behind so many of our unhealthy habits and it’s also fueled by them at the same time. And we all know how bad stress is for our health, not just because of those habits, but because of how chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels can affect the way our bodies function. Here are a couple facts about stress and our health:

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey:

  • 38% of adults surveyed said they engaged in stress eating in the last month
  • Half of those adults said they engage in stress in weekly or more
  • 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress
  • 30% of adults report skipping meals due to stress

According to the NIH, anywhere from 60-90% of doctors visits are due to stress-related conditions

Stress contributes to chronic illness, inflammation, sleeplessness, weight gain, and performance issues and it can also impact our personal relationships. This time of year especially, stress management is particularly important.

So…what should you do?

Stress Management Routine

My biggest piece of stress management advice is to make time for yourself every single day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.

That’s not the tall order it might seem to be. I promise. Because it doesn’t have to be 3 hours at a spa (but if you can pull that off, go for it). It can be just 5 minutes to do something you enjoy.

Just taking 3 deep breaths has been scientifically shown to decrease stress levels on a physical and emotional level. So imagine what taking a 20 minute hot shower while listening to your favorite music can do!

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count. Even if you find cleaning to be soothing, that’s not doing something for yourself because it’s still something on your too-long to-do list that you would have done anyway. So you can count cooking, cleaning, or dishes as self-care.

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count.

Stress management is as deeply personal as the things that are stressing you out, so you need to find what works for you and those things will change situationally. Some people haven’t ever considered a stress management plan and that’s OK – it’s never too late to create one. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

  • 5-minute mindfulness meditation
  • knitting
  • take a walk
  • journal it out
  • listen to your favorite song
  • take a long hot shower

Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated or involved – it just has to make you feel better. There’s no reason not to make it a priority – whether it happens just before bed on your lunch break or in between errands. Just make it happen every day.

Set Boundaries

The other biggest piece of advice I have with regards to holiday stress is to set clear, strong, and consistent boundaries. This time of year, the ones we care about can also become one of our biggest sources of stress as we struggle to balance competing interests, demands, and to-dos. If you focus on trying to please everyone, you’re going to end up burned out. Saying “no” and not feeling guilty about it can be your greatest gift this holiday season.

No, I can’t bring a side dish to that party. No, I can’t host your kids at my house today. No, we can’t go to both parties. No, I’m not buying that toy. No, you can’t invite your 3 friends from high school to my dinner party.

Obviously, there are things that you won’t be able to say “no” to. But for those things that you can, that are causing you more stress than they’re worth, that you dread doing – practice using that magic little word.

On Feeling Selfish

Sometimes setting boundaries is going to create a little backlash. Sometimes taking time for yourself will make you feel like you’re being selfish. To that I say this: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

By this I mean that you can’t possibly show up at your best for others if you don’t care for yourself first. In light of that, there is nothing selfish about taking a few minutes or an hour to yourself today and for saying no to something you don’t want to do.