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Guest Post Life

4 Simple Self-Care Tips to Improve Your Mental Health by Brad Krause

This post was submitted by Brad Krause. Brad is a full-time life coach who writes a lot about self care, which is something I’ve been big into in my own writing (if not in those exact words). You can find more of his writing at https://www.SelfCaring.info.

Image courtesy of Pexels

4 Simple Self-Care Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

With family obligations, deadlines at work, and meals to cook, sometimes we forget how important it is to take time for ourselves. But self-care isn’t selfish. In fact, taking care of yourself both mentally and physically can boost your health, prevent burnout, and make you more alert, focused, and present — all things that will allow you to perform better in every aspect of your life. Here are a few simple things you can do to improve your mental health.

Meditate

If you’re feeling rushed and overwhelmed, you may balk at the idea of meditation, but as Healthline explains, meditating can calm anxiety, increase optimism, and reduce stress. This is vital for your mental well-being, especially if you’re routinely tense. While everyone experiences occasional stress, chronic stress can be detrimental to your health. If you’re constantly stressed, you’re more likely to get sick, have digestion problems, or suffer from insomnia. 

Not sure where to start? Apps like Calm or Headspace offer a great way to dip your toes into meditation and reap the benefits to your mental health.

Make Time to Exercise

If meditation isn’t quite your speed, exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Regular exercise can give you an endorphin rush, boosting your sense of accomplishment and well-being. To really get motivated, fitness trackers can be just the ticket. 

As an example, the now-available Apple Watch Series 5 is a prime candidate. It monitors not only your workout progress, but also your heart function. There are integrated safety features as well, such as fall detection and the ability to summon help if you get into trouble. Or consider the Fitbit Versa Lite, which monitors not only your workout, but also your sleep patterns, and will provide you with information to help you make adjustments. 

Prioritize Sleep

When you’re rushing to get things done, sleep is often the first thing to get ignored. If you often find yourself saying that you can get by with just a few hours a night, reconsider — some studies show that sleep deficiency causes a whole host of problems. In fact, if you miss out on a good night’s sleep for just a few days, your brain begins to function as though you’ve been fully awake for 24 to 48 hours. 

Taking the time to sleep for seven or eight hours a night rapidly improves your brain health. It helps you learn faster, focus better, and make decisions more easily. Getting enough sleep also improves your immune system and allows your body to heal during the night, meaning you’re less likely to need sick days. So next time you start to prioritize work over sleep, take a step back — and if you can’t relax enough to fall asleep, try incorporating some soothing music or ambient noise into your evening.

Self-Soothe With Aromatherapy

While research into aromatherapy is still ongoing, Verywell Mind points out that using soothing scents can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and help people sleep. Lavender essential oil is a great way to calm your mind after a stressful day, but you can experiment to find the scents that work best for you — maybe you’d prefer a pop of citrus to energize you and clear your mind, or a more earthy smell like rosemary. Try using an essential oil diffuser or putting a few drops of oil on your pillowcase. 

If you choose to use pure essential oils in a household with pets, be sure to do your research first; certain essential oils can be toxic to cats and dogs. Scented candles are a great alternative if you’re concerned about the use of essential oils around your pets.

No matter how you choose to take care of yourself, it’s vital for you to continually prioritize self-care in your everyday life. Even if you’re busy, simply meditating for 10 minutes before bed can make a world of difference over time. Get sufficient sleep, add some exercise as well, and indulge in scents that revitalize you. Taking care of yourself means you’ll be happy, healthy, and better able to help the people you care about.

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Life Technology

Step-Focused Life

I came to a realization recently – ironically while walking my dog – that ever since I got my first FitBit a few years back, I’ve been leading a very step-focused life.  And if I’m being honest with myself, this is why my creative drive has taken a steep dive these last 4-5 years.  Let me explain.   

The FitBit – and by extension, most health-focused smart watches (such as my Gear S3 or Samsung’s latest offerings in the Galaxy Watch / Galaxy Watch Active) – have as their main feature a step count.  They’ve branched out to include heart rate monitoring and other fun stuff, but the main draw is that these are smart devices that track your steps in a better way than those simple pedometers.   

At the basic level, most of these devices try to encourage you to reach 10,000 steps (even though that’s an arbitrary number and there are probably better numbers to reach; but that’s not important right now) every day.  On top of that, in both the FitBit and Samsung software ecosystems at least, there are communities where you can add friends and join challenges (most of the time the challenges are to earn the most steps, but there are other kinds as well).  I would say that the goal is to get the wearers more active in general.   

This is overall great for me; I do feel motivated to move more and be more active.  I wouldn’t say that I was a complete couch potato prior to putting on a FitBit, but this is the point I’m getting at; I’ve found that my main driving force every day seems to be “put the watch on to make sure I capture all my steps – I need to get my steps!”  This extends to make it important enough to wear my watch at night.  Tracking sleep is useful, sure, but the truth is I’m more worried about catching those steps between the bed and the bathroom in the middle of the night.   

I used to read a lot more often during the week at work.  Now, I go for a walk more often than not (unless the weather is particularly bad).  Especially if I see a low step total by lunch time (anything less than 3000 is cause for an extra walk), I feel the need to take a short 20 minute walk around the block.  I’m not complaining entirely; I mean, it’s usually nice to get out of the office and enjoy the fresh air, even in the winter.   

But I think it’s also leaving me frustrated creatively.  Why don’t I take some time to read or create something instead of going out at lunch?  Sometimes I try to do both, but it doesn’t always work out.  More importantly what I’m trying to do is let go of my attachment to my smart watch.  Oh I’ll wear it every day, but I’m trying to be less worried about my step totals.  Perhaps one way around that might be to find a watch face that doesn’t put my steps right in my face.   

I’m also going to be lowering my daily step goal.  Right now it’s set at 10690 or something to that effect.  I’m not going to lower it to something ridiculously low like 2000, but I think I’ll be able to find a sweet spot that allows me to hit it consistently (although not necessarily every day, to keep it something I can work toward).   

I feel like this kind of change will help steer me away from being worried about making sure I have enough steps during the day.  That’s the first change here.  The next step to increasing my creativity is probably unrelated to this, so I won’t get into it (plus, I don’t know what that is right now). 

Categories
Life Sports

What I learned playing softball 3 nights a week this summer

Softball image by Kelsey Vere from Pixabay

Most summers, we play softball one night a week. A few years ago that got bumped up to twice a week – only because the league I joined played two nights a week. It was still just one league. Last year, we kept to 2 nights a week – but in two different leagues. This year, we jumped ahead and upped our game a little bit – three nights a week.

And not offsetting nights either; every week we played 3 nights back-to-back-to-back, with no break in between nights (barring any teams not able to play or rain-outs). Most weeks this meant 3 games, but there were some weeks where we had two double-headers back-to-back, so we would play 5 games in 3 nights. Craziness!

I predominantly played third base, though I shifted around the corners playing 1st, left and right fields, and occasionally rover (we’re not as good as MLB players – we need at least 1 extra outfield position to actually stand a chance) as needed. There were some nights I just didn’t have it defensively, but I felt that I improved immensely at third base simply from having the extra reps at the position. Well, on the catching side of things. I have issues throwing on target in a hurry.

On the offensive side, I think it’s best described as being a wash for the entire season. This is essentially what I expected – that I would have some good games and some bad games. Near the end of the season I was stringing together several really good at-bats; unfortunately I struggled a bit right at the end. Things turned around a little bit during the tournaments, and again in Fall Ball, but really I’m ready to end the season so I’m not too worried about it.

The end result is that I’m not getting super upset with myself when I don’t have a good game at the plate. I really hate messing up defensively, but just knowing I’m going to get a billion more chances to hit the ball helps mentally get over the sting of going 0-for-3 or something on a night. I find it much worse to be the cause of a run scoring against you than it is to not be able to get on base.

So what did I learn? It’s not worth beating myself up for missed plays or bat plate appearances. It’s a rec league – everybody else is in the same boat.

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Food Goals

Weight Loss by Numbers

Weird title, I know – after all, weight is already just a number. So what do I mean by “weight loss by numbers”? In short, it’s reducing my efforts (eating, exercising, etc.) to data points. This is my latest “scheme” to get on track with losing weight.

The other day I found – by accident – a really useful spreadsheet designed to help you nail down your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure – the amount of calories you burn per day). It’s the kind of spreadsheet that requires a lot of data – to work well, at the very least, 4-6 weeks’ worth of data. It took me a little bit to figure out what I needed to do to get value out of it, but once I did, I found I really love it.

How it worked for me

For the past several weeks I’ve been working with a max 1555 calories per day, and that was based on some TDEE calculations and MyFitnessPal goals. The idea was to be in a 1000-calorie deficit from my TDEE. Well, this spreadsheet takes into account your weight and calorie intake to calculate your TDEE. This is, I feel, slightly more accurate than the calculators available online. What the sheet is doing is calculating the TDEE based on how calorie intake is affecting your weight the next day.

All that said – what it’s telling me today (at the time of writing, Wednesday) – my TDEE is approximately 2650, which means I need to eat about 1650 calories daily to lose 2 pounds per week. There are some missing days in my data, unfortunately, but this is a very good approximation of where I should be. Since I’ve committed (mentally, at least) to being diligent with logging, I believe I should get even more relevant data as time goes on. I’ll be able to adjust my daily calorie intake more correctly.

So – here’s hoping I can make the right adjustments and get going with my weight loss. I want to get back to where I was 4-5 years ago, and keep going from there. Biggest roadblock to overcome in the coming days: I need to keep logging. That’s really all there is to it.

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Goals

Results From an 8 Week Health Challenge

8 weeks ago (give or take a few days) I joined a challenge on reddit’s LoseIt sub – it was an 8-week challenge with at least two goals in mind: to allow individuals to try to lose weight, and also to collectively walk a bunch of steps. I’m being admittedly reductive in the description but it was actually a lot of fun.

I set an 8-week goal of losing 12 pounds, which would take me from 269.8 lbs to 257.8. By week 5 I had lost 2.6 pounds on the scale; but that’s also around when I unfortunately sabotaged my efforts and stalled a bit. I didn’t lose any significant amount of weight, and it looks like I possibly gained 1 pound on top of my starting number. Not so hot. But I did put up some crazy numbers in terms of steps and activity minutes. Here’s what I did, week-to-week (daily average steps):

Week1234567
Steps 80349589536386608912100348255

So, based on the daily average, I did about 411,929 steps! I could probably get a more accurate number but that would involve going back over 98 days or so…not quite what I want to do right now. Anyway, I’m quite happy with the work I put in despite not getting results that I wanted.

I don’t think I’m going to change anything up right now, except to try to stick within my calorie budgets as much as possible. I would like to see my scale weight go back down to 269 by the end of this week, if possible. If nothing else I’d like to get my trend weight lines to get moving back down instead of up.

I will tell you this…beer is probably the number one enemy for weight loss. That’s what started my 2-3 week setback.

Categories
Life

The Fear of Being Judged

“Don’t think of confidence as being a switch.”

Stephen Gates

Words from Stephen Gates, a creative design leader and host of The Crazy One podcast. The meaning behind that is you need to practice confidence – it’s not an inherent trait that people either have or don’t have. A recent podcast episode came out, which included that line, but also talked about some of the common fears in the workplace.

The “fear of being judged” specifically inspired me to do some thinking; this is something I hold in the back of my head all the time. I don’t share my work as widely as I could, because I (secretly) don’t want my friends and co-workers to see it and jusge me for it. I feel like my stuff isn’t good enough for them (some impostor syndrome seeping in here).

And occasionally, I have “oh shit” moments when I realize my co-workers see what I put online. Are they reading and listening to what I’m putting out there? Thankfully, the team I manage seems to have no clue of my online presence. Just the same, I think this is one of the reasons why I find it hard to share my work online.

However, I know that I’m not alone, and that’s one way in which this podcast episode helped me to understand. Clearly this episode wasn’t directed at me, it was directed at people like me. In that sense, things like this help. And hearing from people with more success than I do share that they have the same feelings (impostor syndrome, fear of being judged, etc.), that’s also immensely helpful.

I’m not sure if I said what I set out to say in this piece, but I think it adequately gets across why I don’t put more effort into some of the things I do online.

Categories
Goals

Weight Loss Roller Coaster

This is not new that I keep posting about weight loss, as it’s something I’m working at – constantly. I recently completed a review of my weight data from 2013 to current day, and it disappoints me to learn that while I lost 40+ pounds by the end of 2014, I gained it all back by 2018.

At my lowest I hit 228 pounds (November 2014); that was from a starting number of 272 (February 2013). Today, August 6 2019, I’m still at 272. I knew that I was climbing back up on the scale over the past 3 years, but seeing it laid out in a spreadsheet made it pretty painfully obvious.

Clearly, I’ve talked a lot about my strategies for weight loss on this blog. Just as clearly, my strategies have not worked. I can’t remember exactly what I did when I lost the weight 5 years ago, but I at least know that it was a combination of diet (via MyFitnessPal) and going to the gym. I still have a gym membership, I just haven’t gone in several months – but it’s not like I’m inactive, it’s just not practical to go to the gym in Summer months when there’s so much to do outdoors.

5 years ago I wasn’t armed with the knowledge of CICO, though, so I feel like this time around it should be a bit simpler to approach. Of course that’s the thinking that I’ve been trapped in for a while, now. But since giving myself this kick in the pants, I’ve outlined a new plan.

  • Reduce daily calorie goal to aim for a 2 lb / week loss (so for right now, ~1555 calories per day)
  • Get back to the gym, 3 times a week. Doesn’t matter which days, and need to be there at least 30 minutes per session (if it’s a short session, it has to be all cardio).
  • I’ll allow myself to eat back maximum 50% of my exercise calories – since they are not accurately tracked, anyway.

Given this plan, I should be at 232 pounds by January 2020 at the latest. I anticipate setbacks, that’s a given. So buffer zone…end of January 2020 to shed 40 pounds. But my “real” goal is to try to hit that number by December 22 2019.

I’m not going to finish at 40 pounds, though. According to most sources, a healthy weight for me should be 148-153 pounds. That seems a bit extreme so probably my next goal after 40 pounds is to get down to 200. That was the original goal, back in 2014. I just never got there.

Categories
Goals

Spreadsheets and Weight Loss

This is going to be really out of date by the time I actually post this, but I really couldn’t wait. My weight loss has stalled of late, and the biggest reason is my lack of discipline in logging. Not surprised there. I’ve been trying and trying to re-focus and get going on this week after week, but I keep dropping the ball.

Weight Loss Spreadsheet
Weight Loss Spreadsheet – The Basics

So today (editor’s note – April 25th), I drew up a new spreadsheet. It’s basic, so I’m hoping that will help me keep motivated to fill it out – and properly, at that. This means that I need to have mostly accurate data from MyFitnessPal to get any use from the numbers.

I hope to see some great numbers at the end of the month.

What I hope to get out of this exercise is to see if my logging is accurate. My goal is to lose 1.5 pounds / week, which means I need to have a calorie deficit of 750 per day (based on 500 calories per day = 1 pound of fat). If I’m logging correctly – and my smart watch is giving me accurate results – I should see it accurately reflected in the final totals at the bottom.

The reason I’m tracking MyFitnessPal (“MFP”) totals vs regular totals is because the numbers for MFP are slightly different than when I use a TDEE calculator. The difference is only 100 calories or so, but this is becoming my “control” month to see whether or not I should stick closer to my TDEE or if MFP is close enough. When I get to the end of May I’ll have a look at the results and make some decisions.

Other notes about the spreadsheet – I need to make sure to re-adjust the BMR & TDEE numbers every 10 pounds. I don’t anticipate that happening this month, as long as I stick to 1.5 pounds per week. As I intend to keep this spreadsheet going, however, it’s a good reminder to keep in the back of my head.

The waiting game starts.

Categories
Life

2019 1st Quarter Check-In

It’s been a while now since I’ve had a meaningful health update on my blog – lately it’s been a lot of stuff of a promotional nature (podcasts, mainly). I haven’t really written anything of “substance” in a bit. This won’t change that, but at least will change up the routine a little.

Physical Health

I can’t remember right now when my most recent weight update was, but luckily all of the digital entries I have at my disposal are helpful in this regard. I closed out 2018 at 274.0. Today (as I write this, “today” is a Tuesday) I weigh 271.8, with Happy Scale telling me my moving average is 271.4. So let’s call it 271. Down 3 pounds in 3 months; not terrible but not where I’d like to be either.

I’ve been up and down when it comes to properly logging food in MyFitnessPal. Some days I lack the discipline to stick with it (I get lazy, or I am purposefully ignoring the fact that I know I’m over-budget). What has been happening lately is that I am solid with logging for a few days, and then fall off the wagon.

I haven’t figured out a solution to this yet – the best solution is that I just log consistently, every day. However this doesn’t work for me mentally. Something I need to brainstorm.

Mental Wellbeing

This is one category I’m happy with. It’s not perfect, but I’m definitely doing better than the physical side of things.

Reading – I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve finished 2 books in the first 3 months of the year, and am making good progress on 2 others at the same time (“Dune”, and “Gone”). I’ve rolled my reading into a new podcast too, and while that’s not taking off very fast, I’m having a good time with it.

Writing – Yeah, haven’t done a ton with writing. I was going to work on a fiction project as my “project” for 2019, but instead of moved to creating a new podcast. I have some stretch writing goals for my blogs, and this I guess is part of it.

Other parts of mental health – Recently my workplace’s health team shared an article about fostering mindfulness – I gave it a quick skim but I saved it for later. I think I’m going to go back to it. Not something I usually think about but sometimes it feels like something I need.

Overall, I’d say I’m doing pretty well. I feel like I had some more things to say but I had to take a break from writing and came back to this the next day, so that’s that. I will try to get some more things written in the near future. I have a couple of gadget reviews that will be fairly easy to write.

Categories
Goals

Weight Loss Update

I wish I could come up with more creative titles for these; but as it stands this is what it is: a weight loss update.

Recap

My goal for March 5th 2019 was to lose 22 pounds and weigh in at 154 pounds. I forget exactly how many weeks I gave myself but I started in November. That should have been plenty of time to reach the goal.

Reality

But I didn’t quite make it. The long and short of it is that I couldn’t get the scale to budge and as I got closer to the March 5th date, I ran out of weeks in order to lose the weight I wanted to. In total I lost 5.5 pounds, 16.5 pounds off from my actual goal weight.

Solution

Well…I don’t know really what my solution is. I’m just going to keep doing what I started back in February, which was to be stricter with logging my calories (both in and out).

I came up with a method originally of tracking my net calories, and it worked overall, so I think I’m going to continue with that. I just need to tweak my setup and try better not to falter.

According to Happy Scale, if I stick to 2 pounds per week, I’ll hit my goal (still 254) by April 24th; on my current overall rate it won’t be until January 2020. What I deemed my “realistic” goal (average of 2, 0.34, and 1 pound per week), it looks like June is my target date.

I think I’ll be happy if I can hit 254 pounds by May 1st. That gives me 8 weeks to hit my goal.