May is Mental Health Month

It’s only been two years since I last posted to this blog. Come on. Two years. Not like anyone reads this anyway. I realize this is more for me and is a form of therapy more than anything. Anyhow, I figure it’s a good time to come back since May is Mental Health Month. What are you doing to better your mental health?

It is spring… so the calendar says, but the weather has been horrid. That has really played a part in the degradation of my mental health. I am learning to love the gym on rainy days, plugging in my ear phones, turning up Luke Bryan and Maroon 5, and just getting after it. I still prefer to exercise outdoors, but with all this rain the mountain bike trails are unrideable, and I have also been dealing with plantar fasciitis, so tennis and running have been off the list. However, I notice I definitely feel better mentally when I am consistent with exercise. My anxiety and depression are lowered, I have more energy, and I feel good about myself. It is important to realize that exercise is not just for physical appearances or stave off chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, but physical activity is of utmost important to our mental health. So if you are not physically active, it’s time to start asking yourself, “why not?”. Something is better than nothing.

I started teaching this fall at our local community college. I ask to teach as often as possible, so besides regular fall and spring semester, I taught a 9 day winter session, and just began summer session which will last 6 weeks. I take on instructing these extra sessions for my mental health. It gives structure to my day, gives me a sense of purpose, and keeps me busy. The class, by the way, is called Concepts of Fitness and Wellness. ūüėČ

I am trying to get back on track nutritionally as well for both my physical and mental health. I have gone back to eating 99% vegetarian, more plant based all around, and stopped drinking wine nightly. I just stopped keeping wine in the house as I found I didn’t miss it, but if it was in the house I had a glass every night. I think I am sleeping better, more soundly, and seem to have less “foggy brain”.

I have also been in the habit of performing progressive muscle relaxation exercises before I go to sleep. Most nights I read in bed for 30-60 minutes prior to turning off the light, but then sometimes I lay there for another 30-60 minutes before actually falling asleep. So now I turn the light off by 10:30 and then do a quick run through of contracting and relaxing my muscles from feet to head. It is amazing at how much quicker I fall asleep now!

I still have my good days and bad days, but at least I am aware of what I need to do to get back on track. That is the first step: being aware. From there change is possible.

 

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It’s Okay Not to be Okay

Have a Real Conversation today about your mental health! Check out my post for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Share your story!

The Trouble With Concession Stands In Youth Sports

Continue having conversations with your kids and educating them on healthy habits. Instead of looking at the calories burned while they play sports, think about the long term effects unhealthy foods can have on them. Think about the message you … Continue reading

Giving without Receiving

  Over the ¬†years I have tried to instill in my children the lesson that giving does not always mean receiving in return. Perhaps in the past they were too young, or there wasn’t a strong enough reason or passion … Continue reading

Participation Trophies: Internal vs External Motivation

I love that my children enjoy playing on sports teams, but I am frustrated with the post season participation trophies and medals. When I was a kid there was none of this. I received trophies if I placed in the … Continue reading

Therapy Helps

Since first recognizing I had anxiety disorder in that college psychology class my freshman year, I have seen a few therapists over the years. Some were helpful. Some were not. But that is not the point to this post. When … Continue reading

Let It Go (Part 2)

It has been four months since I’ve last sat down to write a post. How can that be? Where did the time go? I spent the last four months nannying for an infant whose parents were visiting scholars to the … Continue reading

The Truth About Fruit Snacks

Fruit snacks are fixtures¬†in¬†lunch boxes and party goody bags. They show up on soccer sidelines and are beloved by kids (yes, including mine). But for something that calls itself ‚Äúfruit‚ÄĚ and a ‚Äúsnack‚ÄĚ, they‚Äôre also highly overrated. Here are the three biggest misconceptions¬†about fruit snacks‚Äďand what ALL¬†parents should¬†know about these ubiquitous little pouches: Myth #1:‚Ķ

http://www.realmomnutrition.com/2015/01/14/truth-about-fruit-snacks/

Why I‚Äôm Tired Of ‚ÄúFoods You Should Never Eat!‚ÄĚ Lists

I am so over¬†seeing¬†this headline: ‚ÄúFoods You Should Never Eat!‚ÄĚ There‚Äôs a good reason I¬†see it¬†so much. It‚Äôs effective. It‚Äôs just sensational enough to draw you¬†in, just¬†scary enough to make you¬†flip to the page or click through to the article with a single worry: Oh no, could¬†I be eating one of those foods???? Yes, you‚Ķ

http://www.realmomnutrition.com/2015/01/09/why-im-tired-of-foods-you-should-never-eat-lists/

Perfection Doesn’t Exist

  This title has a lot of different meanings, but what I am referring to here specifically is overall health. I have driven myself nuts in the last year to ensure everything my family eats and does is healthy. I … Continue reading

Proper Fuel for Children’s Sports Performance

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My young children are already competitive athletes. My daughter plays on a travel softball team, and sometimes her tournaments last all day. Six games in two days to be exact. In order to get her through those long days and playing at her peak performance I pay special attention (even more so) to her nutrition needs. Fortunately, my daughter loves fruits and most vegetables. So getting her to eat those things is not the issue. She tends to not eat enough of the “tummy fillers” or carbohydrates on game day (or really any day). I almost always have to say, “Eat your sandwich. Then eat your fruit!”. Otherwise, she will easily wolf down half a watermelon, some grapes, an apple, and while she may fill up on that, an hour later she is hungry. Carbohydrates remain in the body longer, fill up the tummy, and digest easily and slowly to maintain blood sugar levels.

Rather than relying on the concession stand at games to feed ¬†competitive athletes, I encourage parents to pack a healthy, well balanced lunch and healthy snacks to ensure their child’s performance level. Eating¬†greasy, cheesy, oil dripping nachos and fries once in a while is not detrimental to a child’s overall weight and health when given in moderation. However, eaten in the middle of games or tournaments, these types of snacks will effect the child’s¬†performance at that given time. ¬†Those types of foods sit in the stomach and take hours to digest. Sometimes leaving the child with a stomach ache, gas, cramps, fatigue, and low energy. Also, candy and gatorade, or other sports drinks, have a high sugar content which also leads to tiredness and lack of energy.

Speaking of sports drinks, not only do they contain high amounts of sugar, but high amounts of sodium. Both of these can actually lead to dehydration, cramps, and nausea. Perhaps a child will be more apt to hydrate if their drink is flavored. If so, dilute the sports drink with at least 50% water or more. Gradually back off with the sports drink until the child will drink straight water. Research has shown that sports drinks are unnecessary for children’s sports performance. They are better suited for endurance athletes such as ultra marathoners or triathletes. If you haven’t read my post on hydration check it out. ¬†Depending on a child’s age and size he/she should be consuming 5-9 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes. One trick to helping your child drink more water is to mark off their water bottle or buy a water bottle with the ounce levels on the side.

Besides packing fruits and vegetables, some great “tummy fillers” or complex carbohydrates are whole grain breads and pastas, pretzels, graham crackers, bagels, and cereal. Peanut butter or hummus are healthy proteins to eat with these easily digestible foods. Yogurt (especially Greek for added protein…..still working on my own children to eat this!) is a wonderful addition, but look for ones that are low in sugar and additives. Plain yogurt is best, and you can make any combination you want by adding fruit. Blending it at home and then freezing it in silicone pop molds is a healthy snack on the go. Plus these molds cut down on packaging therefore reducing waste in the earth’s landfills.

We need to think of our bodies and our children’s bodies, the way we think of our vehicles. In order to have our bodies living at their best, we need to properly maintain and fuel them, just as we do our cars. High performance cars do not run well on low grade gas, just as athletes do not perform well when they eat greasy, salty, sugary, fatty foods. Whether you’re an athlete or not, every body does not live well when not properly fueled. Feeling fatigued? Have low energy? Have trouble concentrating? It could have something to do with what you are feeding your body. It is well worth looking into dietary changes that will last a lifetime, and give you back your edge. Your drive. Your energy. Your MIND!

My guess is that parents feel that “just this one plate of cheese fries won’t hurt” so why not let them have it? I agree that all foods should be eaten in variety and moderation and I am not saying that you should deny your children these special, treat types of foods. However, there is a time and place for them. By establishing¬†healthy eating habits at a young age will allow our children to make better choices in their teen and adult years.

While I still may be known as the “crazy snack lady” on the game fields, at least I can now say I am a certified health coach. Add that to my athletic training degree/certification and I believe I do have some merit speaking up about healthy living and sports performance! Healthier food and beverage options are in abundance. They may take extra time and effort to prepare, but your child’s overall health and sports performance is worth it! Aim to properly fuel their muscles and prevent fatigue with fruits, veggies, complex carbohydrates, protein, and WATER! Check out earlier posts for more snack options.

Healthy Fundraising Ideas

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I don’t participate in a lot of the fundraisers my children’s school holds. Namely because it seems many are centered around unhealthy ways of life. I would prefer not to visit Wendy’s or McDonald’s on a given night just so that those fast food joints can kick back a small percentage towards the school. My family and I haven’t been to a fast food joint in years, so why start now? I also don’t like choosing junk out of a catalogue that is just going to “junk” up my house or end up in the garbage, and eventually the landfill later. I want fundraisers that help instill healthy habits onto my children. Selling unhealthy foods to children “for a good cause” seems counterintuitive since those foods are not part of a balanced diet. Fast food, cookies, ice cream, candy all contribute to poor eating habits, and part of their education should be about healthy living.

Let’s¬†focus on healthy alternatives that promote healthy behaviors. Here are a few ideas:

Fundraisers that support academics:

1. Spelling Bee (Participants would ask for donations to sponsor them, as well as admission could be charged to enter the bee, contest, fair.)

2. Math Contest

3. Science Fair

4. Workshops/classes on weekend (Sewing, knitting, wood working, cooking, robotics, etc)

5. Read-a-thon (Participants are sponsored for number of books they can read.)

Fundraisers that support the arts:

1. Concerts (Admission to be charged to enter these.)

2. Art shows

3.  Plays/musicals

4. Dances

5. Poetry reading/story telling contest

Fundraisers that support physical activity:

1. Dance-a-thon (Participants ask for donations for how long they might dance, jump, walk, bike, etc)

2. Jump rope-a-thon

3. Walk-a-thon

4. Bike-a-thon

5. Run/walk (Entry fee.)

6. Bowling night (Perhaps the venue would kick back percentage of earnings that night to the school.)

7. Sport tournament (Participants would pay an entry fee to play in a golf/tennis/etc tournament.)

Fundraisers that support the environment:

1. Garden show

2. Flower bulbs/seeds

3. Tree Planting

Fundraisers that support nutrition:

1. Fruit baskets

2. Mixed nuts

3. Healthy cookbook (Have parents donate a healthy recipe whole family loves and make a customized cookbook to sell.)

Other healthy fundraising ideas:

1. Auction (Local retailers donate goods/services or have artists hand make items. Good way for artists to get recognized.)

2. Healthy Kit Fundraiser (SunBuddy Sunscreen Fundraising)

3. Organic Soy Candles (Non toxic and good for the environment.)

4. Holiday wreaths

5. Sporting event (Trenton Thunder or even a college game.)

So, now that I got you thinking, can you think of any more healthy fundraising ideas? I would love to add them to the list.

 

 

 

My Spirituality

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So now that I have opened up the doors in regards to speaking about spirituality, I figure I should start exploring this component of health. I have many issues regarding formal, organized religion, namely, Catholicism, but I am not going to drone on about those. It’s not important what I don’t believe, or what I don’t think is right.¬†Everyone it entitled to their own opinion and has a right to believe in their own higher power without anyone else passing judgement. While I am not certain there is a “higher power” out there that guides us, I do believe in myself. I know what I am capable of and what I am not capable of. I am constantly working on me. Working on being a better person. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Aunt. Friend. Volunteer. Coach. I am a perpetual student. I love learning and sharing knowledge, hence why I hope this health coaching works out for me now that I am certified.

Besides taking courses, getting degrees and certifications, one way I have learned to better myself is taking time for myself. Before I had children I spent much of my time exploring nature whether it was snowboarding or mountain biking. I would often slip into the woods while snowboarding and perch myself in the snow and just take in the wonder around me. I loved the quiet, except the faint rustling of animals in the woods, or the shushing of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes. I would sit there for a few minutes and be at peace. Sometimes I would close my eyes and lay back, and think about my day or what was to come, and just love how beautiful it was to be at one with myself and nature. Life just seemed to stand still for those few moments. I had no worries and in the grand scheme of things, I realized that life was good. I continue to take time for myself whether it be running, mountain biking, practicing yoga, or just taking time to read quietly. It is during these times I reflect on my purpose in life and seek the greater good. I usually find the answers I am looking for while exercising alone.

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and athletics in some form or another. So I guess this is where I find my spirituality. At one point I dreamed of getting married atop a mountain in the winter and skiing down after the ceremony. To me it seemed so fitting, but maybe not so practical for all of the guests! My goal in the next month is to explore my spiritual health even greater by reading books on different religions and spiritual practices. I am also going to try meditating and add in more regular yoga practice. Anyone else want to take the challenge and explore this sixth component of health in a greater depth? What will you do?

Raising Good Children Without Religion

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My husband and I both grew up in Catholic households. We attended church every Sunday and ¬†CCD classes until we¬†were both confirmed. I can only speak for myself, but I was never truly a believer in Catholicism, the church, or God. That was only cemented when I went away to Saint Michael’s College, which happened to be a Catholic college, but it was not the reason I attended. Anyhow, one of the liberal arts studies core requirements was a Christianity course. The course was taught by a priest who was not supportive of my involvement on the alpine ski team (I had to miss some Friday classes for ski races), nor did he seem that supportive of the academic support I received for my learning difference. I recall one Monday class in which I stayed behind to ask him for the handouts I missed on Friday and he threw a bunch of papers at me, and spoke in¬†a harsh tone at me (maybe even yelled, but it was nearly 16 years ago so I don’t exactly recall). Perhaps he was having a bad day, but I had never been in the company of a priest who acted in such a way. I say this because my parents were friendly outside of our church with a couple of the priests. They came over for dinner or came to visit us at the beach. When my grandmother died a month later, whomever my mother spoke to at SMC, asked if she would like a priest sent to my dorm room to console me. Thankfully my mother turned down the offer as she knew I was in current turmoil with one particular priest! Now I am not saying this is what turned me off of religion, but it certainly didn’t help!

When my husband and I became engaged we began attending a non-denominational community church to see if we liked the minister enough to marry us. We both knew we did not want a big Catholic wedding, and I was quite adamant about not getting married in the church at all. We took quite a liking to the minister of our community church and he was kind enough to marry us in our venue of choice — atop a mountain overlooking a lake.

My husband and I spoke early on about having children. We knew we would have them right away, as we did not want to be old parents. We also discussed not bestowing upon them a certain religion, and allowing them to choose any religion later on in life, if they so desired. Since I was not tied to Catholicism, or Christianity in general, I did not feel it was fair to just pick one and expect them to go along with it. Should our children choose to be agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Jewish, Catholic, etc. I will fully support them and their choice.

Some people, namely religious people, want to know how does one raise good children without formal religion. I was once asked, “How will they know about the ten commandments? ” Uh. Well. Most of them are incorporated into my¬†everyday values and morals. I do not kill. I do not cheat. I do not lie. I do not steal. I do my best to see the good in others and have faith that things will work out for the best. This is also how I am raising my children by setting an example of myself, but also by continually ¬†having conversations with them about what it means to be a good person.

We have a strong sense of family. Our children see my husband and I argue, and reconcile within the same conversation. We teach them to use their words, and express how they are feeling. Nothing is perfect and when things get tough we have each other to support and encourage. We have wonderful extended family that also are continually there for us. But not only this, we encourage our children to be free thinkers so that they can help themselves, and hopefully this will carry on through their adult years when we may no longer be able to help them.

We live the “Golden Rule”. ¬†Treating others the way ¬†you would want them to treat you, characterizes the way we raise our children. I use it as an example quite often to get my children to think about their comments or actions, even if it’s just a minor infraction.

Some of the morals and values we strive for in our household include:

Self awareness, respect, responsibility, confidence, independence, creative thinking, kindness, generosity, tolerance, compassion, and empathy. Not only are these values important towards other people, but also in regards to ourselves. We teach our children that not everyone is the same, and we should accept all differences even if we do not understand. I am confident that with all the knowledge we are bestowing upon our children they will have faith in themselves and humanity to do the right thing and figure out life on their own. I know I am raising good, moral children and I know other parents are too, with and without formal religion.

 

Ask for Help: Mental Health Awareness Month

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While many of us are focused on our physical health, we should also be concerned about our mental health, and those whom we love. Make May the month you check in with yourself, your friends, your family, and see how they truly are doing mentally. If you are struggling, ask for help. See a therapist. Talk with a friend. Make an appointment with your physician. Just reach out. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. We aren’t meant to combat life on our own.

Teach your children to be mindful of others. If they see a child playing alone or retreating, teach them to reach out and at least say hello. We certainly can’t make our children be friends with others, but we can teach them to be friendly and thoughtful. Same goes with us adults. A smile. A nod. A wave. Any of these greetings could seriously make someone’s day, even save a life. In the last 4 years I have known two people to end their lives. Young men. Both were hurting in their own ways. One¬†was a former student of mine, and¬†while his family was trying to help him forge through the darkness, not enough was really known about the severity of his mental health. In general not enough is done in regards to mental health. Sometimes it is taken too lightly. People are afraid to talk about it, and therefore they either go undiagnosed or don’t ask for help when they really need it, and continue to struggle with their demons. There continues to be a stigma and we need to break it through education.

It is best not to ignore or downplay signs of mental illness, as they can lead to grave consequences without proper help. According to the Mayo Clinic some examples of signs or symptoms of mental illness may include:

Feeling sad or down
Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
Withdrawal from friends and activities
Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
Alcohol or drug abuse
Major changes in eating habits
Sex drive changes
Excessive anger, hostility or violence
Suicidal thinking
Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headache, or other unexplained aches and pains.

Be kind to one another. Reach out. Ask for help.

Inside Out (The Effects of Exercise Inside the Body)

I joined the local gym last August in an attempt to combat my anxiety and in general, my mental health, as well as to keep physically fit. I knew if I paid the money up front for one year, I would hold myself accountable to going most days of the week. I notice when I skip a day or two I am short tempered and irritable. Anyhow, in the eight months since I have been going to the gym these are some of the “motivators” I hear during¬†class:

“It’s almost summer. Let’s get bikini ready.”

“It’s almost tank top season. Let’s pump up those arms.”

“It’s almost shorts season. Let’s work on those legs.”

“We work out so we can eat that cake/drink that wine.”

“Let’s burn off those extra calories from the weekend.”

“Let’s burn off those calories we ate this week from Thanksgiving/Christmas/Passover.”

Why do people exercise? Work out? Participate in sports or any physical activity? Is it out of vanity? Is it to look good? Maybe. Is it so they can eat whatever/whenever they want? Maybe. Society/social media tends to  focus  on how we are supposed to LOOK, instead of on how we  should FEEL inside (emotionally and physically). This needs to change. Not every person is ever going to be a size 2, nor should they be. That is below the norm and for some people, that is not a healthy size.

Let’s face it. Some people that go to the gym, are never going to wear a bikini, tank top, or shorts. And if they choose to, and they are not what society deems a “beach body”, I applaud them for having great self confidence. It doesn’t matter what one looks like, but how one feels inside. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. I believe a lot of gym goers, like myself, are at the gym¬†because they want to be healthy. They are not at the gym striving for a “beach¬†body”. Well, I’m not, anyway. I go to release tension, keep my anxiety at bay, and stay heart healthy.

Physical activity promotes good health in many ways. In an earlier post I wrote about the effects of exercise on mental health. We can physically see what exercise does to the outside of the body (tones muscles/keeps figures slim), but do we really know what it does to the inside of our body? Here are twelve effects physical activity has on the inside of the body:

1. Boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This helps the blood flow smoothly and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

2. Delivers oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and helps the cardiovascular system work more efficiently.

3. Boosts the immune system.

4. Significantly reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure and can help to lower blood pressure in those who already have high blood pressure.

5.Prevents and helps control type 2 diabetes. Exercise helps insulin to work better and also makes the cells more sensitive to the effects of insulin.

6. Aids in digestion and promotes regular bowel movements.

7. Helps to prevent the build-up of plaque on the walls of arteries decreasing the risk of heart disease.

8. Weight-bearing exercises help preserve bone mass and thus protects against osteoporosis.

9. Builds and strengthens muscles, which can protect the bones from injury, and support and protect joints affected by arthritis. Strong muscles also give stability and improve balance and coordination.

10. Lubricates the joints, and reduces joint pain and stiffness. It also helps people with arthritis by increasing flexibility and muscle strength.

11. Improves respiratory efficiency.

12. Improves quality of life. Decreases risk of strokes, cancers, diabetes, heart disease. Slows the aging process and allows us to live longer.

Some of my friends are exercise instructors. I hope they still will be after this post. I am just trying to point out another way social media influences all of us, especially women. We all have to love the body we have, even the parts we don’t like. Big calves. Big butt. Wide hips.¬†Flat chest. Round tummy. We need to stop focusing on what we wished we looked like and accept the body we have. Forget about burning calories and toning our bodies so¬†we’ll look good in a bikini, tank top, shorts. Focus on how physical activity will make us¬†FEEL. How it will prolong our¬†lives.¬†I hope to live a long time. I’ve only been given one body to live in, and I am going to do all I can to take care of it INSIDE and OUT!