I find that the weather can really dictate my mood, and my motivation. If I don’t see blue sky or sun for a while, I feel … not good. So, when that happened recently, I thought, maybe there’s something I can do. I sat down and wrote this list:
FLOWERS CANDLES EXERCISE OUTSIDE FRIENDS VITAMINS MUSIC PERFUME
Some of these things are obvious and I do them fairly regularly. But some of them surprised me. Like, where did that come from? So I know these things help improve mood, but the thing about a cloudy day is I forget about all the things that can make me feel better. I need to remember to use them when sluggishness started to settle in. And the sooner the better. Usually taking simple action works well, like taking a walk. And, the more often I do these things, the easier it is to do them.
Since I work from home, which I love, don’t get me wrong, I need to find excuses to get out of the house. I also need to connect with people (other than the three I live with.) Calling a friend is super helpful. Seeing them in person is even better! Making plans with your people is so, so important. I think we all learned how important human connection is after being deprived of it during the pandemic. I can’t make plans with someone, I usually go out by myself. I highly recommend strolling through stores just to look at stuff. Or better yet, an art museum.
Exercise is also essential. Luckily I’m already in a good habit of prioritizing workouts. Usually I do it first thing in the morning. Right now I have a routine that I walk the dog then I go for a longer walk by myself. On some days I do Jazzercise from home. I started doing Jazzercise on-demand at the start of the pandemic and I love it. Don’t judge my old lady workouts! They’re awesome. When the days get shorter and colder and I’m less willing to go outside, I have to really make myself get outside. I know it makes a big difference in my energy level.
I definitely believe in vitamins. I just never remember to take them. Not only are they good for physical health, they are good for mental as well. Studies have shown that calcium, chromium, folate, iron, magnesium, omega-3s, vitamin B, vitamin D, and zinc all help to boost mood. I take Garden of Life but there are obviously many to choose from.
Adding light, artificial light if it’s cloudy or dark, is supposed to regulate circadian rhythms (like your body’s reaction to light and how it effects energy). I got therapy lamp a few years ago to help with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). “Symptoms of SAD include loss of pleasure and energy, feelings of worthlessness, inability to concentrate, and uncontrollable urges to eat sugar and high-carbohydrate foods.” – Harvard Health Blog. I’m not sure if the one I have is good or if it’s making a difference but I thought it was worth a try. I find that turning on lights and lighting candles can also make me feel better.
I found it really interesting how many things on my list were sensory. Flowers and candles – sight, music – hearing, perfume (and flowers, and candles if they’re scented) – smell. Enlivening the senses can make us feel more alive. So often people are tempted to numb out to combat depression; bingeing on alcohol, sugar, social media, or TV. Feel less. I never realized that feeling more could be much more effective.
The idea of buying myself flowers is very new to me. So is wearing perfume. I think I got my new love of fragrance from my daughter who is constantly asking for essential oils, candles and perfumes. It feels very indulgent and I’m surprised I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy it more before now. I learned a lot about happiness and self-care from reading The Year of Living Danishly. Lighting candles, drinking hot tea, listening to music, setting a mood. How did I not know about these things?
It’s so easy to get caught up in doing all the things. We feel compelled to clean and work, to take care of others and be “productive.” But if we’re feeling down or tired maybe we need to take a step back, slow down and do something that really creates beauty and wonder. Maybe a cloudy day is just the universe saying, your to-do list just got a lot shorter.
These pants. I have been wishing for them forever. I hesitated to get them because… uh, I thought I’d look ridiculous in them. Like my son’s soccer coach “Todd.” Like, ‘I’m hip, I’m cool, I’m sporty.’ It turns out, I love the way they look on me. And how comfortable they are. I put them on my Amazon wish list and got them for my birthday. I did have to switch out the medium for a small and they are still a little loose. I’ve looked for these pants locally and could only find weird variations on the theme. I would definitely recommend the traditional track pant fabric over the more cottony legging kind. And I really like that these have zippers at the ankles so I can put them on and take them off over sneakers. (Let’s be honest, I’m probably never going to do that, but I could) Finally, they have zippered pockets and an elastic waistband with a drawstring. Perfection.
Hi there. I have things to share with you! First is this light that I got for … Christmas? my birthday? … last year. I had saved the link to one from a company called Alaskan Northern Lights. Their Aurora LightPad Mini is $188. Someone recommended it and now I can’t remember who. But the one I have is from Verilux, the Happy Light Luxe, and it is only $70.
I originally got the idea of Light Therapy from the book The Year of Living Danishly. The author, researching how Denmark manages to be some of the happiest people in the world despite living in such a wintery place, came upon this secret. I have only used my light a handful of times, but just owning it gives me hope when things feel bleak in the winter. (Full disclosure: I use it mostly as a make up light.)
If you struggle with the blues this time of year, or let’s just call it what it is: depression, or as I experience it, full-on-downspiral-into-despair, please try using a happy light. You just set it on your desk, or wherever you’re sitting and angle it slightly toward you but not right into your eyes, for about 10 minutes. Great for those days when it’s rainy and dark.
I’ll add this too: I learned that light of all kinds really help mood. Turn on lamps and/or light candles. I thought candles were only for romantic dinners. They’re good anytime, even during the day. And of course getting outside as much as possible, especially of it’s sunny. A little goes a long way.
Let’s get real. I did not follow through on my goal to get fit in time for summer. I completely abandoned the idea. As soon as I set out to promote the idea of “getting into shape”, it felt altogether wrong. I mean, getting and staying healthy isn’t wrong. But setting a deadline and trying to look a certain way just suddenly seemed misguided to me. And right around that time, I started to see and hear people advocating for the idea of accepting ourselves as we are and acknowledging that we are so much more than our size. So, I just couldn’t do it.
In the past I set a goal of getting down to a certain weight in time for summer, by the time I had to put on a swim suit. I felt like a needed a little push to be more active (a good thing) and eat healthier (a good thing) but ultimately like I needed to fit into an arbitrary aesthetic ideal (maybe not a good thing). And, as I get older, it seems, well almost cruel to keep holding myself to this standard.
Goal start: March 10, 2019, 137.1 lbs.
Goal end: May 27, 2019, 135.6 lbs.
During the first few weeks of my fitness regimen, I worked out 2-4 times a week at the gym with lighter workouts on the other days. I didn’t do anything radical in terms of diet. I was more conscious of my choices, but continued to do my usual “just-eat-real-food” philosophy with maybe a little bit of “intuitive eating” thrown in. All along I was nursing a really old injury I always referred to as “tight IT bands from running”. I stretched them religiously and they didn’t get better. They almost seemed to get worse! Then I went to the Chiropractor and he admonished me for stretching what was overstretched and explained that I had a muscle weakness/imbalance. That was a turning point when I had to face the fact that I did not know what was best for me in terms of fitness. I sort of surrendered.
The next couple weeks I was in California and didn’t do much formal exercise. My pain pretty much went away and I resumed workouts, roughly 2 hard classes a week and a little walking. By the time school let out, I willingly gave up the gym and just did whatever. At some point I stopped worrying about planning workouts and recording them on my calendar. So I can’t really tell you what I’ve done this summer. I do know I started really running and it feels amazing. I recently had some suspicious chest pain and actually saw a cardiologist. After I learned that I my heart was 100% healthy I’ve been feeling so grateful for my health and ability to do pretty much anything. That’s what it’s really about, right?
Do I still want to lose weight? Kind of. Do I wish I had more toned legs? Totally. But this is me. It just is. And it’s good.
How on earth is it March 20th already? I remember thinking that it would be 6 weeks before the new years resolution crowds would disappear. That was over a month ago. I didn’t really notice when it happened but the Y is a lot less mobbed. By the way, I am loving my gym membership. And now that my husband is working out on Wednesdays while the kids take their running class it does seem worth it.
So far I’ve tried quite a few different workout classes: cycling, pilates, grit, step, body pump, body combat. The YMCA has an app and I check it a lot to help plan my workout and my day. If I don’t go to the gym, I will either do a walk/run or do a video on Popsugar fitness or a yoga series of my own creation or maybe a foam roller series.
How do I decide what to do on any given day? How do I motivate myself? Or keep from overdoing it and injuring myself? I really think the hardest thing about working out is getting started. And the thing that makes people stop is going out too hard and too fast. My motto is, “Start slow and tapper off!” Haha! The challenge is to just show up. The rule for me is, as soon as I’ve had my coffee (and usually after the kids are on the bus) I get dressed to workout.
Six Weeks of Workouts
I usually schedule my workouts. I put them in my calendar on my Macbook. I even color code them (purple). What I schedule for any given day depends on what classes are available that day, or if I have a client meeting and have to be more time efficient, and the weather. I’ll pick from options at the gym or at home, inside or outside. Sometimes I don’t get a workout in first thing and then it doesn’t happen all day. Sometimes I’ll do Just Dance with the kids or a Nerf battle—running around the house, ducking down, jumping up, and then picking up 1000 Nerf darts is a great cardio-strength workout! So, I plan out what I’m going to do on my calendar, then make any edits after the fact. That way I can see what I’ve done. It gives me a sense of accountability and accomplishment. If I can do three or four challenging days (and at least one rest day), that’s a great week. I try to have a good mix of strength training, cardio and stretching of some sort. But, I also try not to over-think it. I mean, sometimes you just have to get out of the house and move! Anything!
I used to always wear a Fitbit fitness tracker (the Zip, the Flex, the Alta, and then the Blaze) but now I wear an Apple Series 1 watch. It doesn’t sync with my Fitbit app, sadly, so sometimes I stick the Zip in my pocket. It’s fun to compete for steps with my daughter who has the new kids Fitbit, the Ace. Does the Apple Watch make me more motivated to move? I think a little bit. At first it was really novel, but over time you just sort of ignore it. Sometimes I turn on the workout mode and track my exercise but sometimes I don’t. I do love it though! I actually really want the new one, but I doubt I’ll splurge on that. I rarely ever look at or use the Apple activity app on my phone. I wish it was better! All that being said, you don’t need a fitness tracker or an app to create a fitness habit.
I weigh myself daily. For a while now I’ve had this Fitbit scale. It uses wifi to send data to the Fitbit app. Then I can see my progress, an average for the week, on the app. I can even scroll way back and see that my weight was higher this time last year and that is encouraging.
A note about weight, it’s a tricky thing. There are so many variables: food, hydration, muscle mass, even bone density. You can’t take it as the only measurement of fitness. I’ll also say that I don’t trust the smart scale’s body fat sensor at all. It seems very inaccurate, so I just sort of ignore it. The app also tells you your BMI, but I think most people will say that BMI is very misleading and not the best measurement, especially if you’re fairly athletic. Sometimes I use a tailor’s measuring tape and check my bust, waist and hip measurements (which I need to order clothes online anyway) but it’s a lot easier to step on the scale everyday. I guess it’s good to know your waist measurement as it’s a good way to know your overall health. They say your waist should be smaller than your hips and under 35 inches (for women). Of course you can always use the my-favorite-skinny-jeans-feel-so-loose measurement system!
I’ll sum up with these 10 tips:
“Start slow and taper off”
Make a workout schedule then just follow it the best you can
Vary your workouts
Get a workout buddy, make plans to meet at the gym or the rail trail
Workout first thing if you can
Drink lots of water
Find ways to sneak in exercise—park far from the store, take the stairs
Years ago I read an article about how small changes can make a big difference. I wish I could find it but I wouldn’t even know what to search for. I did find this and after reading it, I decided to insert my own ideas:
whole wheat english muffin instead of bagel
(I’d do cream cheese occasionally, but with tomato, or avocado, or hummus and tomato, or almond butter and banana)
greek yogurt instead of low fat milk with granola
(Definitely! Low fat dairy, milk or yogurt actually have a lot more sugar. And fat is not the enemy. Also, I make my own no-sugar granola.)
an orange instead of oj
(Or a grapefruit. Or a smoothie with frozen fruit, almond milk, spinach, etc.)
wrap instead of bread
(I hate wraps! Ugh. I think just very whole grain bread, maybe only half a sandwich.)
apple slices with cheese instead of crackers & cheese
(Absolutely! Apples with cheese or apples and peanut butter or almond butter. Or rice cakes with almond butter and thinly sliced apples.)
corn tortillas instead of flour
(Yes! I love corn tortillas.)
trail mix instead of mixed nuts
(They’re talking about less nuts which is good but I don’t know if popcorn and Chex are so great. I eat roasted almonds and cashews. I think a small amount, like what easily fits in your hand, is good. Not the whole container!)
dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate
(I LOVE dark chocolate. I’ve learned that 72% is my bitterness threshold. More and it’s too much. Also, I have very much gotten into the habit, when I eat sugar, to take only one serving.)
radishes instead of corn chips (on chili)
(Doesn’t anyone eat Fritos anymore?! I say easy on the tortilla chips and I’m just getting into radishes. We rarely buy sour cream. I’ve never tried greek yogurt instead. Also, easy on the cheese. Jalapeños add flavor and boost metabolism.)
iced vanilla latte instead of vanilla frappuccino
(OMG, back away from the Frappuccinos. So Much Sugar. I would probably just do iced coffee, a little cream and cinnamon.)
raisin bran instead of bran muffin
(I don’t care what a muffin has in it, a muffin is never low cal. Speaking of Raisin Bran, a bowl of Nature’s Path Flax Plus Pumpkin Raisin Crunch cereal or Flax Plus Red Berry Crunch is the best thing ever, for breakfast or late night snack instead of ice cream.)
veggie/chevre omelet instead of ham/cheddar omelet
(Spinach or arugula and goat cheese scrambles are a staple in my house. Also, wherever possible swap ketchup for salsa or hot sauce.)
homemade parfait instead of pre-made
(I have long since steered clear of any kind of store bought yogurt concoction. They are all sugar. If possible I do whole plain greek yogurt with fresh fruit and homemade granola. I also love smoothie bowls!)
raisin toast instead of a cinnamon roll
(Cinnamon rolls are a huge cheat. Usually accompanied with a black coffee and some Swedish furniture. I say just enjoy it!)
pecans and yogurt on pancakes instead of syrup
(We only buy real syrup and use it sparingly. I eat pancakes pretty rarely but like them to be whole wheat or buckwheat and have a little butter and maybe bananas or no-sugar apple butter.)
pumpernickel bread instead of bagel with your cream cheese and salmon
(I love pumpernickel bread. I indulge in real cream cheese with my lox. Add tomato, cucumber, arugula. Yes!)
apples and honey on oatmeal instead of cream, brown sugar or nuts
(We buy Nature’s Path oatmeal, the flavored, sugary kind for the kids and I cook the plain stuff with frozen peaches or blackberries, a little butter, and some homemade no-sugar granola on top.)
bacon instead of sausage patties
(What? Well, ok. I say bacon once in a while, but can we all admit that bacon is not healthy? I agree, anything with very few ingredients is better. Also, have you ever tried an open face egg sandwich with arugula and smoked salmon instead of bacon. A-mazing.)
whole grain trail mix instead of regular
(It’s fun to mix your own, once in a while. Mini marshmallows, dark chocolate chips and annie’s bunny grahams. Mini pretzels, raisins, white morsels…)
ice cream sandwich instead of ice cream
(Ice cream sandwiches are natures perfect food! lol. Seriously, I suppose they do promote portion control.)
nutella on graham crackers instead of chocolate covered almonds
(Good idea. But remember, Nutella is not health food. It’s sugar and chocolate. and hazelnuts. Lots of parents give it to their kids on bread for breakfast. There’s the theory that sugar in the morning is better than before bed.)
lemonade and seltzer instead of lemon/lime soda
(I agree, start with seltzer — get a soda stream and make your own — then add just enough juice or lemonade to make it tasty.)
ricotta cheese and honey on flatbread (wasa?) instead of cheddar crackers
(Sounds good. I think I’ll try that. We switched from Cheesits to Annie’s cheddar squares. I don’t think they’re healthy, but it’s one of my favorite indulgences.)
edamame instead of peanuts
(No peanuts in our house because my daughter is allergic, but I think I will get back to having Edamame on hand!)