Anxiety – ain’t nobody got time for that.

monkey-pigEver realize that you wasted so much time on anxiety? I can say I have. I’ve sabotaged my dreams, my health and my relationships. Finally I have gotten to my 40s and I’ve realized that it’s more time and energy than it’s worth. Being stuck because of what’s going on in my head is something I can’t afford. At this point in my life I’m hearing about people my age losing battles with cancer or getting knocked down by really crappy things. Life’s short. We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow.

But we have control over what’s going on in our minds right now. We have control over our actions and our reactions. That’s all we’ve got. We can choose positive thoughts and positive actions that’ll take us closer to our goals, dreams and our happiest future.

How do we get there?

We take action on things we can control. I feel anxious when I’ve got a lot of loose ends with insurance or finances. I know that neglecting these things is going to weigh heavily on my mind. Taking care of these issues, even if it’s painful at the time [sitting on hold with an insurance company is no fun, I can attest to this last Monday] but it eliminates any excess anxiety.

We focus on the tasks that will get us the results we want. If checking Facebook isn’t getting you closer to your goals, limit it and write that blog post, read that business book or prep your meals. I don’t think anyone has a shortage of productive activities on the to-do list in the back of their minds.

Work out your feelings quickly. I journal every single morning at the start of my day over a cup of rooibos tea. It’s at that time that I purge any dark feelings quickly on the pages and release any worries. Writing it out makes me feel better. It’s quick and private – the way I like to deal with things. You may feel better speaking to someone else. That’s cool if it’s your thing. The important thing is to get it out before it starts churning around in your mind and festering.

Let go of the past. There’s nothing I hate more than a therapist rehashing the past over and over again. It’s over. Most of us didn’t have a lot of control over the events of our childhood. The only thing we have control over is today. And ourselves. You can let it go and move forward. I don’t see the value in picking at old wounds. Healing happens when new experiences replace the old.

Surround yourself with awesome people. Negative people or people who constantly deride your dreams are not worthy of being in your life. It’s hard enough to stay positive and believe in yourself and it doesn’t help if you have someone constantly reinforcing the negative and pessimistic thought patterns you are trying to change. It’s painful, but necessary to end those kinds of relationships.

Say yes to yourself. So often we deny ourselves comfort or luxury and this only keeps us in a state of anxiety. Spoiling yourself doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It could be letting yourself have that extra hour of sleep or a long soak in the tub.

Ditch the anxiety and you’ll add precious hours to your life.

 

Is it real food?

cornucopia-011This is the question I’m asking myself before I reach for something. I don’t eat a lot of processed foods, but I do have a wicked sweet tooth. I’m one of those people who’d eat cake instead of food for lunch. With Halloween a memory now, I have memories of grabbing a fun size chocolate bar or two out of the treat bowl. Most people would say “what’s the big deal?” Well, I’ll tell you the big deal – refined sugar is habit forming and is at the center of almost every physical illness [and most mental illnesses] plaguing us.

 Every bite of sugar makes the brain’s reward and pleasure centres light up – and makes us want more. And more. And more. Until those fun size chocolate bars become king size chocolate bars. I know that sugar is my nemesis and every year I undergo a sugar elimination to reset myself and get a handle on it. This time around is a little different.

 As I move through my 40s, my energy levels are changing, my body is changing and my moods are changing [thank you hormones!]. These regular indulgences are causing me more harm than good. I am still fit and I’m still very healthy looking and I’d like to stay that way. But on those cranky days, I’ll have  sugar. On those tired days, I’ll have sugar. Things need to change. So instead of solely eliminating sugar, I’m focusing  on eating real food.

 Real food is anything that provides the body with the nutrients we need without additives or things that use our health and vitality to process it in our bodies. It usually is perishable and not made to last on a shelf for a number of months or years. It can taste good and be a treat, but it’s got to be real and it’s got to have nutrients. This would exclude most foods that come in brightly coloured packages. If I bake oatmeal cookies and I’d like to have one, it’s part of a meal or a snack and it’s going to fill me up and provide me with vitamins and minerals. This has taken a lot of the negotiation out of my mind as to what I should and shouldn’t have. I’ll go back and forth – should I have the chocolate or shouldn’t I? Am I depriving myself? If it’s considered food, I’ll eat it. If it’s candy that has no value, then no. Same with salty snacks. Nuts, olives, fermented pickles are all good savory snacks. Chips are not real food. They barely resemble their original form which is a potato.

 What I’ve learned in this process is that I’ve definitely ignored my body’s needs for water. I’m realizing that I’m grazing instead of drinking water. I’ve misplaced what my mouth wants and instead of liquid, it’s getting solids. By drinking more water, I’m feeling less crave-y and I’m getting the benefits of being properly hydrated. I’ve also noticed that I need that little 3pm pick me up a little less when I focus on food. If I’m genuinely hungry at 3pm I can always have an apple or veggies. If not, I can wait until dinner.

 I’ve also noticed that my mentality around food has changed. I would often have Mary’s Crackers with my lunch salad as a “treat” – don’t roll your eyes, it’s a treat when you eat pretty healthy!! And that would be the thing I’d look forward to. I’m now focusing on having a whole starch if I need one – sweet potatoes for instance and I’ve found that I feel like lunch, while still relatively enjoyable, is a time to relax from my workday and fuel up. The emotional attachment to the food at lunch is gone.

 I’m a believer in making positive life changes – not short term solutions. By reframing the foods that I eat, it’s make this change a lot easier.

Love sugar? Give your head a shake.

sugar-poisonYou can’t walk down the street without seeing some sort processed sugar being consumed. Giant blender drinks, ice cream piled high on a cone or a can of soda in hand – processed sugar is everywhere. And sadly the number of people coping with anxiety and depression are becoming the majority.

I believe that what you eat contributes to not only your physical health but your mental health. And the most obvious of the culprits robbing people of good mental health is processed sugar. There have been numerous studies done on rats and how sugar affects their ability to navigate their way out of a maze. There have been studies done on people to look at how sugar can make symptoms of anxiety worse.

Continue reading “Love sugar? Give your head a shake.”

Decaffeinated Me

GreenTeaSo what I originally thought was perimenopause was just me being stressed out. I don’t get stressed out very often and everything goes off the rails when I’m under stress. Being in the wellness business, I know that caffeine, sugar and alcohol are the three amigos of BAD when you are perimenopausal and menopausal. I rarely have alcohol or sugar so that isn’t an issue.

But I was nursing a wicked caffeine addiction. Like 24 ounces of the strongest coffee I could get my hands on before I could form a sentence addicted. It was something that I knew was not in line with my healthy lifestyle choices. So perimenopause or stress – giving up the caffeine needed to happen for my mental and physical well-being.

I invested in some delicious (read pricey) decaf coffee. I replaced half of my second coffee with decaf. Day one had me reeling with a brutal headache. I was cranky. It wasn’t pretty. The subsequent days were easier and my courage was bolstered by the fact that I seemed to be handling it well. Every couple of days I’d up the decaf and take away more caffeine. I started taking Siberian Ginseng which helped my energy levels tremendously.

Then came the time to jump of the diving board. Pure decaf lifestyle. The first three days I sailed through. But by day four I was feeling awful. I was really hungry, I would have done anything for a coffee. My eyelids were heavy from 3-5pm. My bravado vanished and I found myself trolling websites searching for some good news. That caffeine if the best thing for you. Well actually, there are a lot of studies extolling the virtues of caffeinated coffee. And my personal theory is that they are authored by researchers addicted to caffeine.

I held strong and I’m happy to say that I’m out of the woods. I’m sipping on water, green tea (much less caffeine than coffee), herbal teas and a morning cup of Toronto’s finest decaf from Red Rocket Coffee. And it’s funny because when you’re not feeling great you don’t  realize how shitty the things you ingest makes you feel until you don’t have it.

I traded in caffeine for amazing, deep and replenishing sleep. I now wake up after seven hours refreshed and ready to take on the day – without an alarm clock. I’m no longer bound by my addiction. If I don’t get a cup of coffee before running out the door, no biggie. I’m more hydrated because the absence of coffee has allowed me to feel my dehydration more [and do something about it]. I’m really enjoying my meals with a heartier appetite.

So if you’re sold on switching know a couple things:

  • Do it slowly and gradually to avoid headaches and too strong of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Take something to boost your energy. I used Organika Siberian Ginseng and it was great.
  • Keep a glass of water handy because you’re going to be thirsty.
  • Don’t cheap out on decaf coffee. Grocery store brands use chemicals to remove the caffeine instead of the less toxic swiss water method.
  • Let yourself be a little hungry [if you are getting adequate calories in a day] because your appetite with increase slightly
  • Don’t give up when it gets hard. The hard time will last about two days max.

I’m enjoying the sweet taste of freedom from any drugs or chemicals and it feels great.

 

There are no free lunches.

white-horse-01My diet is a lot of “free” – including gluten. But my interpretation of “gluten-free” is very different from popular opinion.

A lot of people are ditching gluten because they want to lose weight. Yes, eating less grains will promote weight loss because it’s taking a lot of calories out of your diet (and possibly inflammation as well). Most people are inclined to eat more grains – and more calories than we need. It’s easy to eat more than we need of them because on their own, they don’t have a lot of fat which is one of the things that triggers satiety when you’ve had enough of it.

Being gluten-free doesn’t automatically translate to healthy. Or even weight loss. What you are eliminating in wheat and other gluten containing products, you are adding in other nasties like potato  and tapioca starches. If the ingredients on a bag of gluten-free bread are unpronounceable, a person might as well be eating Wonderbread.

That’s not to say that there aren’t decent quality gluten-free products. There are whole food options that don’t contain gluten like Silver Hills products, but the idea is to reduce the amount of grains, if calorie reduction is the goal. As well, you don’t need to get rid of all grains. Quinoa and brown rice are great grains that don’t have gluten and you can eat in moderation. And let’s be honest, brown rice isn’t that delicious that you are at risk of over-indulgence.

Adding more vegetables and fruits is key in maintaining a  gluten-free lifestyle. Yes, you can replace whole wheat wraps with collard greens. But if reducing grains is the plan, it’s time to think beyond the sandwich, the taco, the pasta bowl and so on.

A roasted vegetable platter with chickpeas and a quarter cup of brown rice is amazing. Blanched and sautéed rapini is perfect with a filet of salmon. Steamed kale chilled and served over romaine can make a great taco salad, eliminating taco shells. The opportunities are endless for vegetables.

If you are dairy tolerant and enjoy playing in the kitchen, Yotam Ottolenghi does a fantastic set of cookbooks with vegetable recipes. Produce Made Simple is a website with vegetable recipes and information on how to buy produce. There are numerous resources available for adding more vegetables.

So if you are looking at eating healthier, reducing calories or eliminating inflammation, take the advice of Michael Pollan: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

How sweet surrender can be.

trollForgiveness is hard. I had been holding onto things for years that I just couldn’t let go of. It wasn’t serving me very well any more.

We *think* that holding grudges against someone prevents the thing that they did to us from ever happening again. The reality is that it happens again and again, not because of the other parties involved…but because we continue to play that same hurtful song on repeat.

Holding grudges has nothing to with reality. Between the illusions that rob us of the good things in our lives and the reality that can set us free to pursue those good things is forgiveness. It’s the bridge that we have to cross. Yes, it’s guarded by big angry trolls that we created in our own minds and yes they are terrifying. We have to face the trolls. Intellectually we know that we will be better off. I’ve read on many occasions that forgiveness benefits the forgiver and releases him or her from the shackles of pain. I will admit that in the past I thought that was stupid and that revenge would be far more rewarding than forgiving and letting go.

There a ton of “techniques” in forgiving others. Most of them involve working on the easiest to forgive and working your way to the hardest. Finding something loving about them, or putting them in the frame in your mind with someone that you love. These never worked for me. Mostly because I couldn’t get past the “Yeah but…” aspect of what this person or persons had done. I didn’t love those people and I didn’t see myself loving them. Ever.

It wasn’t until I really felt like I was a slave to my emotions that I became interested in letting go. I was recoiling when I heard their voice or they popped into my mind. The pain was on like the Pagan chant “we are a circle within a circle, with no beginning and never ending”. It went on and on. The people that I was holding grudges against were probably doing great without any thought to what I was going through.

So why was I?

I created my own healing practice. I smudged my home regularly. I meditated with a dark moonstone for new beginnings and to let go of the past. I journalled and found my way through expressing the old emotions. It took just over a month for the the work to manifest itself and take root.

I had a dream last night where I was at a big banquet and everyone who had done me wrong was there. One by one they approached me and they gave me a gift. I thanked them for the gift and hugged them and kissed them. When I woke, it took me a few minutes (and maybe a cup of coffee) to process the meaning of the dream. The gifts I was receiving were those elusive gifts New Age writers have been talking about. The gifts I received is having unwavering calm, peace of mind and the evolution of my soul. Realizing the power of those gifts requires trust to surrender to the moment.

It requires letting go of the illusion and stepping into reality.

Getting your facts straight in the stories you tell yourself.

telling-the-stories-1Reading the newspaper daily can be hazardous to your mental health. Reading about bad news page after page, day after day, can erode your peace of mind and optimism. This is one reason why I don’t bother following the news. I refuse to be manipulated that way. If something is that important, I’ll find out. I don’t need the additional drama festering in my mind.

But I’ve recently realized that the stories I’ve told myself – stories about the past, about my limitations, about other people’s motives are just as dangerous. I have a tendency to exaggerate the facts about a situation. Just as an example, this morning while out for a run  I was recollecting how ignorant I was in my 20s when at the gym. I loved the elliptical. Maybe a little too much. I was thinking about the years that I squandered the opportunity to build a really good fitness foundation while I was still metabolically active.

And then it struck me, I had essentially created a picture of myself in the past that wasn’t really accurate. I lifted weights back then. I did yoga. This belief about myself was totally false. I started probing my mind about other “facts” about my life in the past and the present. For some reason, I’ll convince myself that something is true and that fits into a neat little box in my mind and that’ll be the story that I’ll stick to.

We do that a lot. We like good stories and the reality we live in doesn’t always make a good and easily told story. Or maybe the story isn’t over. Maybe you’re in the middle of the story, on the second book of the current trilogy you’re acting out.

One person’s work that I really like and is relevant to this is Bryon Katie. In her book “Loving What Is” she has outlined a system called “The Work” that helps develop the kind of clarity I’m talking about. When you have a thought like “I have neglected my fitness in the past” – ask yourself “Is it true?” And then ask it again. “Can you absolutely know it’s true?”. Now look at how this thought, this truth makes you feel by asking yourself “How do I react, what happens, when I believe the thought?” Then finally “Who would I be without the thought?”

So let’s use my example about my fitness level. It’s not true. Believing the false belief gave me a sense of determination to overcome my past behavior, to think of my past self as “less than” which gave me the discipline to work harder. Without that thought I would be (and now am), grateful for this body that can withstand the workouts that I enjoy doing and are good for me. I can look back at the younger Danielle with love and admiration for sticking with her fitness routine, even if it wasn’t perfect. It also makes me honour my body as it is now and not wish for anything different than I have in this moment.

It feels much better than berating myself about half truths.