Tag Archives: health

Post trip caffeine detox

I write this from the Caribou Coffee near my home. Fittingly, my drip coffee maker decided to stop working, and is no longer pulling the water up. I am not sure if it is the hard water coating the mechanism or what. Ugh. Maybe I’ll get a french press for a while and just us my water heater to make the coffee.

In any case, the only solution was to find another source. Going without coffee is not a viable option for me. I’ve done dietary detox “cleanses” before, in which I have given up gluten, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and animal products for a period of 14 days or 21 days. Both times I struggled most with giving up the caffeine, and also dairy.

As someone who both thrives and struggles with a.d.d., I have taken a stimulant medication to help with focus for about 14 years. There are biochemical reasons behind why this has been helpful for me, and why I tend to get addicted to caffeine very quickly. A lot of people with a.d.d. struggle with nicotine addition for this reason as well – it helps with focus.

While this may seem counter-intuitive, if you think of it as stimulating the “brake center” or the executive functioning center of the brain, it makes more sense. People think that stimulants should make you hyperactive, but the opposite is true. They tend to calm down an attention-challenged person. The exception for me is that when my synapses feel “burned” from too many days on too little sleep, typical for me after more than 3-4 days of a work trip.

When the body and brain need rest, they need rest. There is no substitute. In the two years I have really worked to make sure I get better sleep, take care of myself physically and focus on dietary factors which help me sleep better. I weaned myself off full-strength coffee on a day-to-day basis at home. I typically make myself a half caf blend in the morning and I savor it slowly with full fat cream, Putting a shake of cardamon and cinnamon in the coffee maker is delicious also.

Now that I am home again after 7 nights away, I know I will have to detox from the higher amount coffee I consumed in Argentina and Brazil. Coffee is a larger part of the culture, and it is absolutely delicious there, though the Argentinians frequently leave out milk or cream, so I find it’s too acidic for my system to overindulge too much on coffee.

Caribou

Caribou Coffee this morning, not too crowded at 7:30 a.m.

It doesn’t change the fact that I am, in effect, “double dosing” when I travel, since the half caf option doesn’t really exist on the road. I limited myself to 3 a day (which is usually 3 half-cafs at home). People looked at my strangely in the past when I’ve asked for decaf espresso or cappuccino in a restaurant. My Argentina colleague has an espresso after dinner at 10 p.m. at night and I tell him I’d be up all night if I did that.  He reassures me: it doesn’t even affect him.

I disagree, it probably does. Though the brain and body have a way of down-regulating hormones and neuro-chemicals when we have become accustomed to too much. When we allow ourselves to scale back on a stimulant substance like caffeine, we start to realize how much we had been depending on it, and our body adjusts back to a more normal baseline.

I like to allow myself a couple of days to gradually scale back the caffeine, while getting juicy, wonderful 9-10 hour nights of sleep. I log my sleep daily (clinical researcher here). When I looked at a stretch of 4 days in which my average sleep was 5.75 hours, I realized that I will need to allow myself at least an equal period of time to restore the balance. If I do not, I will suffer. Pure and simple.

I also notice my weight has been up a bit this month, and that’s typically an indicator that my body is stressed. But I know that when I give my body what it needs: rest, good, healthy food, lots more salads (god, I hate what they feed us on airplanes, that’s a post for another day), time to relax, yoga practice 3+ days a week, solitude, good time with my hubby and my kitties, my body returns to normal.

So while a detox can be challenging, filling my life with all the good things that keep me vital and happy also feels really, really good.

Happy Thursday, peeps!

 

 

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Saturday Share

It is Saturday Share day so I will take a day  off writing and instead highlight a couple of blogs that I have discovered and enjoy.

Dr. PerryThe first one is Dr. Perry of the MakeItUltra™Psychology to Motivate blog. Dr. Perry is a psychotherapist from Sherman Oaks, California. He writes about self-care, depression, anxiety, narcissism, grief, and many other topics of interest in psychology. His writing is clear and relevant to the problems and issues of today.

Dr. Perry also gives back generously to the blogging community by allowing space on his site for others to promote their blogs as well.  This exemplifies a generous spirit of creating space for others while contributing to our knowledge of psychology. Check out his blog if you get a chance.

calling in well.JPGAnother blog I like is Calling In Well, which documents experiments and adventures in well-being. The categories are: food, happiness, health, mindfulness and travel. All kinds of my favorite things. Conceptually I love the idea of calling in well. Her photography is beautiful and I enjoy reading women who (like me) do their own experiments in various wellness practices and write about it.

So if you are looking for some good reads on your weekend, check them out and give them some love.

Hope you have an awesome weekend, friends! Make the most of it! 

 

DST – Declare it “be kind” week

This week, most U.S. states (except Arizona and Hawaii) will go through the process of the Spring time change. I typically go on an annual rant to my facebook friends about how much I dislike the twice annual time change, especially this one when we lose an hour of sleep. We lose daylight in the morning, and as a morning person I dislike having to get started in the dark again.

For many people, I realize this is a minor annoyance. But for those of us with more sensitive sleep schedules, messing up our circadian rhythms causes real health issues. On Mondays after the start of DST there are typically more workplace injuries and tiredness at the clock change is the cause of more traffic accidents. A Swedish study found that the risk of heart attack increases for the first 3 days following the switch to DST.

So what is there to do with all of these annoying and also potentially serious consequences?

I would very much like it if we abolished the switch, and just used the DST schedule year-round. The energy savings we supposedly gained a century ago when this madness started are no longer relevant. I believe the health risks associated with changing the clocks really are not worth it. Also, it makes things more complex when we exist in a global world with some countries changing time, others not.

But since I am not necessarily able to gather the political will to make this happen, I instead decided a few years ago to declare a “be kind to myself and to others” week. Since I know I will be a bit sleep deprived for a few days, and my body doesn’t like the disruption, I do other things to make sure I take care of myself. I go to yoga, often I schedule a massage, I eat a lot of healthy food and drink plenty of water. I use compassion with myself and realize that if I am tired and cranky, my body needs patience and understanding.

I consider the fact that Spring is indeed arriving, and the light is increasing. I acknowledge that while I need to wake up in the dark for a few more weeks, having a bit more light in the evenings is nice. I try to take it easy on myself, knowing that I love Spring, but seasonal changes can be hard on anyone, and routines need mindful adjustment.

I allow myself to be a little “lazy” at work, by working from home the Monday after the change, and appreciate the privilege I have in doing so. In a week, things will be better. I typically adjust in about 3-5 days, and my cats do so as well, and things will even out.

If others you meet are tired and cranky this week, it helps to remember that some people may feel this change more acutely than we might. Make an effort to go easy on them as well if you can.

I think we can all benefit from declaring a “Be Kind to Yourself” week this time of year, especially to those of us coping with the change. Why not? We should be kind and compassionate on a daily basis more anyway. Let’s just kick it off this week with some mindful and intentional care of ourselves this week. We deserve it.

 

Intention vs. Attention

I was reflecting this weekend on the topic areas I have written about for the past few months on this blog versus the original intention I had at the beginning.

Sunrise from my window

Sunrise from my window this morning as I wrote – gorgeous!

One intention was to comment on politics and privilege from my unique perspective as a bi-cultural Latina woman. I still do that now and then. But more often, I have shared about topics like mindfulness and taking care of my health. So I wanted to consider why the blog morphed as I committed to more of a daily routine of writing. Here’s what I came up with. I would love to know what you think.

  1. It is best to write about what we know. Since I know myself better than I know anyone, writing about my own experience, and my own journey seems to be a good way to start. It limbers up my writing practice, and allows me to reflect on what I have learned from a personal perspective.
  2. “Research is me-search.” I am a clinical researcher by training, but the topics I find most interesting are my own little n=1 experiments in health. For those of you not familiar with this terminology, “n” is the number of subjects/patients you include in an experimental sample. When I experiment with a new wellness practice, I am the sole participant so n=1. There is no control group, so it is not a “valid” sample in the methodology we typically use. But of course, there are subjective measures we can use to validate our own experience. I rely on those rather than on statistical work to conclude whether I will continue particular wellness practices I try.
  3. Taking care of ourselves well is a radical act. I believe we do not live in a culture that does not properly value taking care of ourselves, and women struggle with this most. We give lip service to taking care of ourselves, but we also cut corners on sleep and fill our lives with unnecessary obligations and distractions. We must step away from the “busy-ness culture” that is supposed to signify our importance in the world. This helps us have space to truly thrive. But so few truly commit to this path.
  4. Until we care for ourselves, we will not have long-term resources to help others. I began finding in my personal life about 2 years ago that I was putting my work and family ahead of taking care of myself. It was taking its toll on my health. I did not like the results. I did not like constantly feeling tired and strung out. But I felt desperate to make a contribution “to the world” because I saw political and economic systems I did not feel were serving people. A decade before that I had been very involved in political campaigns. But that had burned me out, and required much personal sacrifice that I simply could make at this stage in my life.
  5. We are in this for the long haul. Any type of societal change is slow-moving, and requires sustained effort. What is done in one day has fairly little impact. But what is accomplished over time, with many small efforts (and many people) daily is what creates a movement. If more of us were to look inward, take care of ourselves and our needs, and thrive personally, we would likely have more time and energy to care for others. This includes our families, our communities, and our society as a whole. Not that we can stop caring for others as we care for ourselves, but just that we cannot care for others at the expense of our long-term health. This will serve nobody.

So these are my initial thoughts on why my blog has morphed from its original intention. I may come back to writing more about politics and other topics about which I am passionate. Right now, I write about what I most want to learn and master. That is where my attention is most focused, and writing about these topics clarifies my thinking.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have a wonderful week!

Sunrise 2 from window

Sunrise a few minutes after the other photo – I just LOVE the colors of morning!

Desires

Were you taught from a young age that desires are dangerous?

I think many of us who grew up in a Judeo-Christian background probably absorbed this lesson early in life. Those of us who have struggled with food issues or with other addictions may stop trusting our desires, since they seem to lead down a path that is destructive.

Last summer I started working my way through a book by Danielle LaPorte’s book called The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul. She sets out a process to examine 5 major areas of life, Livelihood & Lifestyle, Body & Wellness, Creativity & Learning, Relationships & Society, and Essence & Spirituality.

Since I opted to put the process away in August in order to focus on planning details for my wedding in September, I thought January would be a good time to return to it, and complete the process since I have some big goals this year. Reading back through my responses from the summer, not a lot has changed.

But one thing that stood out to me was my response to the prompt “Pleasure feels:” At risk of being a bit vulnerable here, I wrote down the words: amazing, forbidden, dangerous, excessive, tempting, all-encompassing, elusive, desirable, moving, shared, exciting and peaceful.

I recalled the time I had read Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. Menu item number 3 was Desire. She explains that our true desires and yearnings are what lead us to our soul’s purpose. Martha Beck is a genius, by the way. If you are ever facing major career shifts or changes in your life, pick up one of her books (the other I really loved was Finding Your North Star but I will read anything with Martha’s name on the cover).

Prior to desire, she focuses on stillness and truth. If you cannot get truthful with yourself, then you cannot reveal your true desires. I still struggle with this, but I am learning. Many of us have spent years repressing our desires, so we sometimes do not even know how to recognize or voice them. We are out of practice in detecting them.

We think: maybe that desire for chocolate cake is bad and wrong. In fact, the chocolate cake is most probably a “mask” for a true desire, which is to take loving care of ourselves, and indulge in some pleasure.

In August of 2016 I decided that my “desire” for a glass of wine as soon as I got home each night was something I wanted to change. It really was less of a desire and more of a habit, and since our brains like to stay efficient, habits can be hard to change. But the first thing I noticed when I took first a 10-day hiatus was that my anxieties and doubts came up. Yup. Alcohol serves a purpose. It dulls out those feelings.

What I realized is that I was using wine to space out situations I did not want to confront. I also used it as “social lubricant” for work dinners I attended, and other events where I knew I would interact with groups larger than my comfort level (about 4). I realized that I was buffering my discomfort in these situations, and that it was unnecessary.

But I had to come up with a story for why I would decline the wine. It turned out to be this, and it is totally true: alcohol messes with my sleep. Since sleep is precious to me, it just is not worth it. That turned out to be a justification that my coworkers could accept, and regardless of whether they were accepting about it, I was committed.

Since then I have found that I get more sound sleep, I have less cravings for sugar, and I am able to experience “unclouded” feelings. Sometimes that sucks! I have to admit it, our buffers dull difficult emotions. But now that I know I can handle difficult emotions, that they are temporary vibrations in my body, I do not reach for wine. In 2017, I had a drink on probably 5 occasions, usually for a special event and planned ahead of time. I am not an alcoholic and I do not count days of sobriety.

But I have the confidence that this choice, far from dampening my desires, has done more to clarify what I desire long-term than anything else. So it is worth it, and I am grateful I realized how much better my life is without it. The clarity that has come from realizing I have a desire for more creativity and self-expression has led to much more satisfaction with the kinds of work I choose to do. It is right and it is good to take pleasure in that, not a sin.

Cheers, amigos! Toasting you with my glass of La Croix sparkling water. I hope you fulfill your desires for 2018.

 

 

Daily rituals

Today I will return to work after the holiday break. I also have an appointment this afternoon for post-op check-up following my appendectomy surgery a few weeks ago. Though I usually wake up around 5:30, this morning I was awake at 4, so I opted to roll out of bed at 4:30 to start my coffee pot.

It is again a chilly morning at zero degrees F with a windchill of -15F.  I plan to go to the gym in a bit for some exercise. I am not yet “cleared” to get back to yoga so I will go again for a walk on the treadmill.

This past weekend I went a little stir-crazy after no exercise for a few weeks, so I just had to work up a small sweat by walking on the ‘mill a couple of days. Typically I do yoga 3-4 times a week, and I like to run at least a couple of times a week. I have not run since my last trip to Mexico early in December, when I managed a few short treadmill workouts.

I exercise for my mental health as much as my physical health. As someone with an attention issue, it is a highly recommended natural intervention for this condition. It also helps prevent depression and anxiety, which I have contended with in the past. It has been at least 7 years since I had a true “episode” of depression as categorized by the DSM-5. It was minor, fortunately, and responded well to a few sessions of counseling, and addition of healthy fats and protein to my diet.

A few years ago, when I was racing many half marathons per year (and even one marathon) I felt such a sense of relief from previous depressive symptoms. I think this was for many reasons but here are the top ones:

1) Exercise is good for the brain and this is documented in the research.

2) The running community and the friends I met were so positive, supportive and uplifting (this is actually how I met my husband).

3) A regular routine and training goals for races kept me in touch with friends, getting outside in the fresh air and sunshine regularly. Nature is such a beautiful balm for all that ails us.

2018-calendar.jpgAs I consider goals for 2018, I know that there are some daily rituals I will keep, that serve me well and contribute to my health and well-being. Getting good sleep (and patience as I gain mastery over insomnia) is a non-negotiable one. I will aim for 8 hours regularly, because I feel better with adequate rest. It helps maintain my weight, gives me more consistent focus during the day, and adds better decision-making. If you have one thing you do for the next year to commit to your health and you get routinely less than 7 hours a night – try to get 30-60 minutes more sleep each night. Your body and brain will thank you. Trust me.

My other daily habits are: meditating (I’m on day 333), journaling in a hand-written journal in addition to this blog, and doing some yoga or walking/running. I also typically end my workday with taking 15 minutes to plan the next day or two, review what is on my schedule and prepare myself mentally for what is head.

I enjoy my coffee in the morning, so even though it is half caf these days, that one is not going to change. I avoid caffeine in the afternoon since it does tend to mess with my sleep when I am not careful.

Calvin on lap

Calvin napping as I write my blog

Sitting with a cat on my lap and reading at home is another wonderful ritual that makes me feel especially happy in winter. Having time with my husband to chat and catch up on the day is another ritual that keeps me connected. On the weekends I typically make breakfast for us, since he leaves so early for work on weekdays. I enjoy that also.

As I consider whether I should add anything, I believe I want to continue the work on the de-cluttering project I began last Spring. This has gone in fits and starts for me, usually when I get too annoyed by not being able to find things that I go all “KonMari” for a few days, in a frenzy. But this time I will follow through to the end, and really put things away at the end of every day, as she recommends once the big de-clutter is over.

The month of January for me is typically one of reflection and consideration of where my life is and where I want it to go. I know a lot of people use December for that, but really I find it too stressful between holiday hoopla and social obligations. There is no hurry to begin something new for me. When I commit, I like to go all the way. So I allow myself a few weeks to plan and dream while I get my daily routines back into place, and get my head back into work.

I have a new planner with monthly and weekly pages instead of a daily list. I am experimenting with that, making my daily rituals more routinized and still working with a to-do list but working to schedule that time in my electronic calendar instead of keeping the endless list. We will see how that goes. Really I am trying to take away, not add to all the obligations I create for myself.

What are your favorite daily routines, that keep you grounded and sane? I love hearing about what works well for others.

Time enough at last

Do you remember that episode of the Twilight Zone called “Time Enough At Last”? I own the Twilight Zone complete collection on DVD, and this is an episode worth watching if you have ever wished for “time enough” to do what you want.

Henry Bemis wants one thing in life: more time to read. I have so much empathy for Henry. There are times when I really long for more solitude and reading time. Henry works at a bank but sneaks down to the vault during his lunch hours to read.

But not only does he do that, he tries to read while he is doing his job, which means he does not do that job so well. He clearly feels “put upon” by the world, his job and his wife, since nobody seems to understand his thirst for books and reading time. But I have deep empathy for his suffering.

Prior to my appendectomy, I was really wishing for some reading time and contemplation. I wanted some time off from work when I could just read, relax and enjoy some time to myself. I looked forward to the holiday break coming up – my workplace shuts down between Christmas and the New Year. I was feeling rather “put upon” at work myself, and I just wanted an escape. I have had on my mind a sabbatical, and while I think this is not so practical in my current job, I viscerally ached for this kind of break.

I would not have chosen to go to the hospital to have emergency appendectomy surgery in order to get out of work. I have been fortunate to recover very quickly, but now find myself with a head cold. Okay, my body demands more time to rest, just as I’m trying to get a few chores done before the holidays.

One day while reading down in the vault Henry Bemis is knocked unconscious by a shock wave. He awakens to discover that the world has been devastated by a nuclear war. At first he is in shock, walking through all the devastation around him, and he decides to commit suicide. But then he sees the ruins of a library, his paradise!

He gleefully piles up the books, thinking he has a supply to keep him busy for years to come, with all the time he needs. But as he settles to read his glasses slip off his nose and smash on the ground, trapping him in a blurry world forever. “That’s not fair! That’s not fair at all! There was time now. There was all the time I wanted! That’s not fair!” (I found a 3-minute video on YouTube if you want to see that scene. It still breaks my heart).

Poor Henry. Life is not fair. Bad things happen. And yet this is the way of life. We get sick, our plans go awry, and we have to adjust. We must get extra rest. We must slow down and respect our body’s limits. We must acknowledge that we do not control everything, and stop resisting and arguing with reality.

Oh boy, Henry. You and I have a long way to go.

 

Go easy on yourself

This time of year can be difficult, especially for anyone dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that may originate from the lack of light and lack of fresh air.

Symptoms I experience are typically insomnia, sometimes anxiety or changes in my mood or appetite. Many of us have increased cravings for carbohydrates, and we may feel sluggish or have difficulty concentrating.

For many years, I have used exercise, dietary strategies such as a vitamin D supplement in the morning, magnesium at night. I try to get enough vegetables for their anti-oxidant properties and fiber, but in Minnesota nothing is fresh this time of year, so it can be difficult.

Getting enough healthy fats in my diet more recently has been a wonderful benefit to my health overall. I have learned more and more on how balancing our brain chemistry with healthy fats is really important. Right now I am reading “The Chemistry of Calm” by Dr. Henry Emmons, and there is some wonderful advice there on how to overcome anxiety. Dr. Emmons presents the information from both Western and Eastern traditions and I strongly encourage you to check it out if you want more scientific background on drug-free ways to overcome anxiety.

I still struggle with insomnia periodically, usually when the seasons change and/or when I am under more stress. I know how important sleep can be for good healthy, so I try valiantly to get more, and sometimes it still eludes me.

Over the years, I have learned some strategies which help. It is a learning process, and I have to accept that it takes some time to change old habits. I am undoing a pattern that was established (and possibly reinforced) for 25-30 years. I may not unlearn it overnight. But due to the remarkable neuroplasticity of our brain, we are capable of training ourselves out of old patterns.

The biggest factor to remember is to have compassion for ourselves, and not to label ourselves as “anxious” or to consider ourselves flawed in any way. Instead of saying, “I am an anxious person” try instead: “right now I am struggling with anxiety and I am learning how to manage it.” Thus, the condition is temporary and not a part of our identity.

It is important not to identify too strongly with any label, as this may convince us we a permanent, unalterable condition. The truth is that we have far more capacity for change than any of us realize. And this learning how to manage our struggles is where wisdom is born. Nothing is wrong with us. This is the human condition.

About half of our life may be happy or joyful (or maybe slightly more). But about half of or life will be negative emotions. This contrast is what makes life so rich and interesting. If we can go easy on ourselves, realize that sadness and feeling down sometimes are a part of life, then we can truly appreciate the joyful moments.

Compassion for ourselves and for other people is really the engine that helps us live a good life. We sometimes have that inner critic that resists compassion, questioning if we deserve it, speculating that we do not. If we come from religious backgrounds where original sin was a big part of the emphasis, this may be harder for us.

It may take some time and practice to cultivate compassion for ourselves. But it is possible. And with this self-compassion comes the ability to have compassion for others as well. In this time of holiday festivities and dark, cold, weather, that can go a very long way.

If you are struggling with SAD, anxiety or depression, please get help from a trained mental health professional, and/or seek support from the people you love. It is not a time to “go it alone” when you are dealing with this stuff. Sometimes families are not as understanding, so try to find someone who can help you get the support you need.