Categories
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.

Categories
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
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
Food

What about Breakfast?

I’ve seen plenty of things said about breakfast; the most popular is that it’s “the most important meal of the day“. In my experience, this is simply not true. I rarely eat breakfast, and I don’t suffer for it. Unfortunately, I do not have empirical evidence; I can’t tell you whether I’ve been negatively affected by it (are my insides rotting because I’m not eating breakfast?), and I also can’t tell you that my positive weight loss results can be directly attributed to not eating breakfast (it’s not – it’s tied to my calorie deficit that I try my best to maintain).

Lumberjack Breakfast
Not a typical breakfast for me. Photo credit:
Clemens v. Vogelsang

I thought I would do a bit of research for this instead. I performed two different searches:

  1. “Is breakfast really necessary?”
  2. “Why should you eat breakfast?”

I wanted to word each search to try to get a tailored result; with the first search term, I expected to see articles that either support skipping breakfast or at least tell you that it’s a personal decision about whether or not you need to eat breakfast.

The second I purposefully worded it “pro” breakfast, to see if I would get something that supported the idea of eating breakfast. I was also curious with this search term to see if the articles I got were backed by anyone with an agenda (i.e. food companies). So here’s what I found out.

Is breakfast really necessary?

I found this article from the BBC: “Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?” Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

One of the very first things I noticed is that this article tries very hard to remain neutral, and even links to some interesting stuff about the food industry pushing studies that support eating breakfast. The most interesting thing I took out of the article was this section about trying to determine a relationship between breakfast and obesity:

What they found was that it wasn’t breakfast itself that caused the participants to lose weight: it was changing their normal routine. The women who said before the study that they usually ate breakfast lost 8.9kg when they stopped having breakfast, compared to 6.2kg in the breakfast group. Meanwhile, those who usually skipped breakfast lost 7.7kg when they started eating it – and 6kg when they continued to skip it.

Jessica Brown – Nov 28 2018

And, of course, this line here:

A 2016 review of 10 studies looking into the relationship between breakfast and weight management concluded there is “limited evidence” supporting or refuting the argument that breakfast influences weight or food intake, and more evidence is required before breakfast recommendations can be used to help prevent obesity.


Jessica Brown – Nov 28 2018

The entire article goes back and forth between whether or not breakfast is good or bad. One study says yes, another says no. One scientist says simply “don’t have a late dinner if you skip breakfast”. It goes on.

The final conclusion seems to be: nobody agrees, so just pay attention to your body (in other words, eat when you’re hungry). OK, let me circle back to this after the next section.

Why should you eat breakfast?

The very first search result was definitely pro-Breakfast: “5 Reasons Why You Should Eat Breakfast“. Again, I’ll be here.

Once again, first impressions: what the search result doesn’t tell you is that this is a sponsored post. From the article: “This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of belVita for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.” OK, so immediately I know that this is supported by the food industry; but perhaps there’s more substance here.

Breakfast is a must for all of us.  It is the most important meal of the day.  A nutritious breakfast is very important for our health and weight management, but not having it at all is the worst option.  5 Reasons why you should eat breakfast: burns fat, keeps blood sugar even through the day, helps to fight daytime cravings, lower incident of heart disease, keeps our brains sharp, helps with concentration and productivity.

Amy, A Healthy Life For Me

This is the opening paragraph. It goes on, but I’ll reflect a bit here. First, there are no indications that there’s any sourcing for these claims. The author just states them as fact. I just finished reading in the BBC article that many of these reasons provided are contentious and studies both prove and disprove them. I’m a little disappointed in the effort here.

But the article does go on, as I said; it provides some basic information about protein and fiber – still not sourcing anything – and repeats the 5 basic reasons from the opening paragraph.

In general this article is not very helpful and even though it is sponsored content, I think more care should have been given to find sources for the information given.

So, what about breakfast?

As I mentioned at the start of this post, and found out from the BBC article, it ultimately depends on your own body and your needs. But what I think you should pull from this article is more about how careful you should be when searching for answers about something.

The positive or negative spin you put on a search term will definitely influence your results, and you need to be careful about what you’re reading. There are a lot more sponsored content pieces out there these days, so it can be difficult to determine what’s fact and what’s not.

Either way, this was a fun little exercise that supported my own personal viewpoint.

Categories
Goals

Data Dump

Back in March, I got a Samsung Gear S3 smart watch to replace my FitBit Charge 2.  I’ve been doing a lot more tracking, etc. with it than I ever did with my FitBit.  But until now, I haven’t really looked at the data.  Well, now’s my chance.  Here’s all of the health data I’ve recorded.

Sleep

My data actually goes back to January – I assume that some data got imported when I did some syncs with different apps.  Here are my average sleep times for each month:

  • January – 7 hrs 26 mins
  • February – 7 hrs 47 mins
  • March – 7 hrs 56 mins
  • April – 7 hrs 0 mins
  • May (to date) – 7 hrs 2 mins

My average sleep efficiency recorded for April/May was 90%.  I’m not actually quite sure what “sleep efficiency” is, and whether or not that was a metric that Samsung came up with.  It turns out, it’s an actual number you can figure out yourself.  Here’s how verywellhealth.com defines it:

Sleep efficiency is the ratio of the total time spent asleep (total sleep time) in a night compared to the total amount of time spent in bed. For example, if a man spends 8 hours in bed on a given night, but only actually sleeps for four of those hours, his sleep efficiency for that evening would be 50% (four divided by eight multiplied by 100 percent).

So it looks like I’ve been sleeping pretty well, on average.

Steps

  • March – 8112 average daily steps; average distance 6.07km
  • April – 8247 average daily steps; average distance 5.63km
  • May (to date) – 8813 average daily steps; average distance 5.92km

I seem to be fairly consistent with the average daily steps.  My goal is 10,200 currently, and I’ve hit that 18 times (according to my ‘badge’ list – the last time I hit it was this past Monday).  The most steps I’ve walked to date was March 14th, when I hit 16,838 steps.  The previous record before that was 13,392.

Exercise

  • March – 99 average active minutes
  • April – 103 average active minutes
  • May (to date) – 115 average active minutes

You can tell that I’ve been more active as the weather gets better.

Heart Rate

  • March – 46 bpm Minimum | 68 bpm Average | 200 bpm Maximum
  • April – 45 bpm Minimum | 67 bpm Average | 171 bpm Maximum
  • May (to date) – 49 bpm Minimum | 69 bpm Average | 177 bpm Maximum

I’m not sure how to analyze this data, to be honest.  Is that good?  Bad?  Looking at the average, specifically; I figure that the minimums/maximums will probably be outliers anyway (and the max would be recorded during exercise).

I did some brief research, and found a formula for figuring out targets for training at least.   Using that formula, my max heart rate should be 186-188.  So it looks like except for March, I’m well within that range and have some room to work harder.  I found a Livestrong article that suggests 60 to 100 bpm is “normal” for ages 10 and up.

So there you have it.  I’m interested to see how my numbers compare for June/July/August.  I anticipate that my steps / exercise will probably increase vs the comparable numbers for March/April/May.  I think that it would be realistic to shoot for a 65 bpm average as well.