All posts by Allison Shields

Our digital copywriter who's been going on her own healthy journey since starting at Health Alliance in 2014.
Reduce Traveling Stress

My Healthy Journey – Traveling Stress

The end of April and beginning of May might be the craziest month-long stretch I’ve ever planned for myself. I will be battling traveling stress each week with almost no downtime in between.

First, I spent a weekend with loved ones around Indy, going to the zoo and shopping. Then, my mom, sister-in-law, and I went on a big weekend trip to New York City to see a Broadway show. The next weekend, I’m headed to Chicago to visit some old friends. The 2 weekends after that, I’m driving home for events, and then the weekend after that, I’m off to Seattle.

No matter what, traveling is stressful, so to get through it, I’m trying to plan ahead, stay on top of things, make the healthiest decisions I can on the go, and enjoy the moments of fun that are the whole point of traveling in the first place.

Planning Ahead to Avoid Traveling Stress

While tickets and such have been booked ahead of time, the planning never ends there.

Clean Before

First, I spring-cleaned my apartment like crazy so that it could survive the coming month without looking like a wasteland.

Spring Cleaning List

I pulled tons of great tips to make this list from the helpful resources we shared in our Spring Cleaning for National Cleaning Week post, like using rubber gloves to wipe dog hair off my furniture, freshening up my garbage disposal, and more.

Organize, Organize, Organize

I’ve been making a list of all the things I need to do before each trip, so I don’t do something silly and forgetful, like making myself late by forgetting to put gas in my car before driving to the airport.

And this list doesn’t just include the things I need to pack but also the things I need to do around the house and the errands I need to run first.

NYC To Do List

This helps me stay on track and not forget all the little things that have to be pulled together at the last minute.

Pack Early

I try to pack as much as I can ahead. The key to-do’s I can mark off in advance:

  • Buy or organize travel liquids if I’m flying.
  • Check the weather forecast.
  • Plan versatile outfits, like things that can mix and match and fit the weather and planned activities, including shoes because I get blisters easily.
  • Organize or switch to a purse better for travel.
  • Never forget essentials, like headphones, a book, sunscreen, bandaids, gas in the car, and meds.
  • Pack snacks.
  • Plan driving times and routes.
  • Charge devices.

Packing Ahead

Then, at the last minute, I can just add in the things I’m still using, like my makeup bag, toothbrush, and phone charger, and avoid all that last-minute packing stress.

Planning for Work

Another important key to planning ahead is making sure work is ready for me to be completely unavailable.

Usually that just means talking to my co-workers in advance and making sure anything that takes place on the weekends, like social media for the next week, is done early.

One of the easiest ways to ruin your vacation is to have to drop everything for work, so make sure you’ve talked to your co-workers and set boundaries for when you’ll be available.

Then, stick to those boundaries because vacations are an important part of avoiding burnout. If you’re only going to check email once a day, stick to that and do it at a time when it won’t ruin your day.

Staying on Top of Things to Avoid Traveling Stress

No matter how much planning you do, it can all fall apart while you’re there if you focused on the wrong thing.

Planning Activities

I like to make plans for each day with loose free time around them. You never want to have to be too many places in one day, so one meal with reservations and one event or activity that requires tickets in advance per day is probably plenty. You can munch or discover something new when you’re actually hungry the rest of the time, which can help you avoid overeating on a trip. And you’ll have more time to focus on something you love instead of rushing off to your next activity.

I also like to have extra time planned in so that if I’m exhausted, I can take a nap, shower after a hot outdoor activity, or simply enjoy downtime by watching a movie or grabbing an appetizer with my loved ones.

Get Your Bearings

Another key can be knowing your location and how to get around. I’ve lived in New York and Chicago, so I know my way around the neighborhoods and how the subways work, and pulling up a location on my phone is more than enough for me to find my way in either place.

However, I’ve never been to Seattle, so looking at maps and familiarizing myself with what’s where will be a much more important part of planning that trip so I don’t end up lost when I get there.

Identify what you need to focus on in preparation for each trip for a smooth journey to avoid hiccups in the moment.

Start the Day Off Right

Each morning of your trip, it’s a good idea to review your plans with everyone. Not only will it put you all on the same page, but it will help you remember which important tickets, confirmation numbers, or reservation details you need to bring along that day for your planned activities.

Making Healthy Choices to Avoid Traveling Stress

Traveling stress skyrockets for me when I feel guilty about it, so I’m trying to make healthy choices wherever I go.

A few weeks ago, I bought a Ringly ring. Ringly is a fitness tracker that syncs to your phone but looks like jewelry. I’d been wanting a tracker for a while, and the design of these adorable pieces made me finally get on board.

You charge it in a ring box and manage it from an app on your phone, and no one would ever know from looking at it that it’s a tracker.

Ringly Box Ringly Ring

Because of this new tracker, I can see how much walking I’m doing each weekend. The weekend in Indy, I walked 9.2 miles. And in NYC, we planned in time to walk the High Line and the bottom half of Central Park. We ended up walking 25.5 miles total!

I also try to choose healthier food choices most of the time without sacrificing the experience.

Enjoying the Moment to Avoid Traveling Stress

Finally, the stress-busting key for me is enjoying the fun parts of traveling. Those moments have to outweigh the stress, or it’s not worth it!

In NYC, we:

  • Ate at Bobby Flay’s Gato
  • Saw the new show Amélie
  • Spent a day at Chelsea Market
  • Walked the High Line
  • Had a ball at Waitress, including the perfect-serving-size, tiny Key Lime and Marshmallow Pies at intermission (And they raised $20,000 dollars in a little auction at the end of the show for charity!)
  • Indulged in the special Easter brunch menu at Tom Colicchio’s Craft
  • Explored Central Park

With more crazy weekends ahead of me, I hope my planning helps me stay sane!

Tips for Your Travels

If you need more tips to make it through your next trip and traveling stress, these can help:

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Testicular Cancer Awareness Month

Testicular Cancer Awareness Month

It’s Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, which is the leading cancer in men ages 15 to 44.

Raising Cancer Awareness

 

1 out of 270 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer. It can develop fast and double in size in just 10 to 30 days.

When detected early, it has a survival rate of over 95%. Regular self-exams are the best way to find it early.

Self-Exams to Prevent Testicular Cancer

 

Testicular cancer can elevate your hormones, causing tenderness in your chest. Learn other signs.

Chest Soreness and Other Symptoms

 

Back pain and significant weight loss are some of the signs and symptoms of advanced testicular cancer. See your doctor quickly.

Symptoms of Advanced Testicular Cancer

 

If you’re diagnosed with testicular cancer, there are questions you should ask to find out what comes next.

The Right Questions to Ask Your Doctor

 

Treatment for testicular cancer is much like other cancers. It can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Testicular Cancer and Treatment

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Healthy Celery Recipes for Spring

Celery Recipes for National Fresh Celery Month

It’s National Fresh Celery Month and the perfect time to find new, inventive ways to eat the veggie with these healthy celery recipes.

First up is a light Apple and Celery Slaw that you’ll love with summer meals.

Apple and Celery Slaw
Image and Recipe via Food Network

 

Make Buffalo Chicken Celery Sticks to lighten the classic game day dish.

Buffalo Chicken Celery Sticks

 

Be adventurous with this recipe for Kombu Celery as a snack.

Kombu Celery
Image and Recipe via Bon Appetit

 

Skip the food court with this Black Pepper Chicken.

Panda Express Black Pepper Chicken (Copycat)

 

Serve this rich and creamy Vegan Cream of Celery Soup with salad for a light meal.

Vegan Cream of Celery Soup

 

Lighten up your spring picnics with this Easy Avocado Egg Salad.

Easy Avocado Egg Salad Recipe

 

Whip up a light and refreshing salad with a kick with this Thai Celery Salad.

Thai Celery Salad

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Time for Self Care

My Healthy Journey: Putting Self-Care First

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to re-evaluate and set new healthy goals. For me, that always means trying to refocus on self-care.

As those of you following along know, I always have a hard time prioritizing the little things. So far, I have 3 big self-care goals that help with that for 2017.

Get Organized for Self-Care

Planning in Writing

I always have a planner for scheduling our company’s social media because I like to have it in writing. But this year, I took it a step further and bought myself a Passion Planner.

If you haven’t heard of Passion Planner, it combines a lot of things, like keeping a bullet journal, setting goals, imagining your future, and reminders to take care of yourself. Here’s a peek at what that looks like:

Weekly View of Passion Planner

It’s built to help you track time, workload, and to-do tasks for your personal life and goals, and it even makes you find the good in your week.

Finding Time

In an effort to fight off my workaholic tendencies, I’ve been thinking a lot about time and time management. There’s one TED talk in particular that has had me thinking for weeks:


Video via TED

This idea that there is enough time for the things that matter to you, even if you live an extremely busy life, feels so wonderful. Not only do I have no doubt that she’s right, it’s also an idea to live your life by.

For me, I’m adding a third-column to-do list to my Passion Planner, which is the self-care to-do list Laura recommends in that video. Too frequently things like my chipped toenail polish are such a low priority that I never make time for them (and I can only imagine this just gets worse as you have kids).

By putting them on my list, I give myself permission to make those little things a priority, to make time for them, even when they seem selfish or stupid. I can make time for reading a book, checking my personal email, playing with my dogs, anything. This is how I plan to make self-care a priority.

Soon, I will use the pages at the end of each month to evaluate how the first month of this is going, how my goals went, what was good and bad this month, and more.

Evaluating for Self-Care

Meal Planning and Tracking

I’ve been trying to make healthy meal plans and grocery shop in advance each week, which again, requires I make time for it.

This great video series of bento box lunches from Mind Over Munch, one per day in January,  has really been helping me to get inspired with each day’s meals. (She also has a digital cookbook of these if you need more than 30 days of inspiration!)

How I Meal Plan

To meal plan, I’ve been using a lot of tools to make it happen, which makes it a lot more fun for someone like me who loves checking things off.

First, I have a lovely Wonder Woman list that I write down meals for the week on, organized by breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I try to choose at least one recipe for a nice big breakfast on the weekends, at least one recipe for a few lunches (something I can make multiple times or a big batch of something, like soup), and then 5 or 6 dinner ideas that I’ll make over a week and a half or so (taking leftover days off from cooking). And finally, at least 1 dessert because I have a huge sweet tooth. I label where each recipe is coming from and use it as a weekly menu, marking off things I make as I go along.

Meal Planning Tools

From there, I make a grocery list on the lovely Wunderlist, which is my favorite because it syncs across devices, but there are lots of other grocery shopping apps you can try.

And I use that whiteboard beside my Wonder Woman list to keep track of all the meal prep I need to do, like boiling eggs, making homemade salad dressing or sauces ahead of time, or prepping veggies and snacks for the week.

Then, I keep a calendar whiteboard on my freezer with dinners scheduled out. It helps me plan which days I’m eating leftovers, which ones I need something easy, or when I’m going out.

Monthly Meal Calendar

I also keep a more thorough list in my planner of what I eat for each major meal.

Meal Tracking by Month

I’ve also just been trying to find little things that make my life easier in the kitchen, like my new knife block, which swivels to hold a cookbook or tablet while I’m cooking:

Kitchen Recipe Holder

Tech and Digital Organization

Finally, on the organization front, I’m trying to clean up from a digital standpoint. This means a lot of things. I got a wireless speaker for Christmas. Syncing it to my cell phone lets me play music wherever I am in the house without needing a stereo or getting my computer close to water, like while I’m cooking or showering.

I’ve also been trying to clean up my digital presence, like organizing my iTunes, consolidating multiple Netflix and Hulu profiles I’ve had on different accounts, organizing all my bills online, backing up files like my writing on Google Docs, keeping track of my different passwords and profiles, and more.

I’ve also been taking the time to use digital solutions to solve some of life’s inconveniences, from the Tile on my keys to organizing all of my loyalty cards and memberships with Key Ring and  tossing all of those business cards without guilt by backing them up in CamCard.

It’s amazing how satisfying throwing away all that clutter can be.

(Looking for more ways to clean out your wallet?  This Real Simple article can help! It even has handy suggestions for using the leftovers off all your gift cards!)

Reading Challenge as Self-Care

There are all kinds of reading challenges all over the internet, practically one for every interest you could have. Popsugar’s yearly challenge is always a good general challenge, but looking at it, I just kept thinking about all the books I already know I want to read.

So instead, I’m making my own reading challenge. I used a Christmas Amazon gift card to buy a big stack of books that have been on my list for a while and combined them with a handful I’m in the middle of or have been hoarding,

Reading List Start
(Why yes, that is a dog toy “hidden” on top of my books…)

On my self-care list, I’m forcing myself to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to reading a book. Not the news, not my phone, a physical book.

And once I’ve forced myself to sit still and focus for those 15 minutes, I inevitably find time for at least 15 more.

Healthy Eating Self-Care

In keeping with all that self-care and meal planning, I have to follow through with making those healthy meals too.

For Christmas, I also got 3 cookbooks, which are keeping me going. Both of Skinnytaste’s cookbooks and The Dude Diet cookbook.

My New Cookbooks

Skinnytaste

Skinnytaste’s cookbooks have a variety of recipes to make up for my comfort food favorites, from chicken enchiladas, chicken parm, and baked potato soup to staples like homemade marinara, which I’m trying to avoid buying at the store.


Chicken enchiladas with homemade enchilada sauce and lime cilantro rice.


Teriyaki pork chops, with homemade teriyaki sauce, and spicy pineapple salsa.


Oven-fried chicken, which tastes a lot like Shake ‘n Bake, with cheesy cauliflower mash.


Baked potato soup, which is filled with hidden cauliflower.

The Dude Diet

And, you may not know it from looking at me,  but nachos, bar nachos especially, and chili cheese fries are my top 2 favorite foods. (Closely followed by all things sweet, mostly candy, but that’s beside the point.) So The Dude Diet is perfect for me.

It has all kinds of healthier takes on hearty classics, even going so far as to have Taco Bell copycat tacos. (Be still my beating heart!)

So far, from simple Pad Thai, where the weirdest ingredient I needed was Sriracha, to truly bar-worthy BBQ chicken nachos, this cookbook has yet to disappoint.

Chicken Pad Thai
I substituted chicken for shrimp in The Dude Diet shrimp Pad Thai recipe.

BBQ Chicken Nachos
Drool-worthy spicy, baked BBQ chicken nachos.

Using these cookbooks, I’ve been slowly tasting my way through their wonderfulness, and it’s making a difference! Not only can I see it, but I can feel it. And the best part is I’m not sacrificing anything. These recipes are delicious and doable.

Build your own group of recipes that you trust and love, or start exploring healthy cookbooks yourself. Enjoying what you’re eating is the only way you’ll be able to make a healthy lifestyle feel achievable.

Do It Yourself

Not sure how to get started setting your own goals? Our wellness tool, Rally, can help you set food, exercise, organization, and even reading goals.

Follow us on Pinterest for more healthy recipes, or find us on Instagram to see my progress and what I’m cooking up.

And join me in setting your own healthy goals for 2017. Let’s make this our healthiest year yet!

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Meditation and Relaxation

My Healthy Journey: Find Time for Meditation

Sometimes, it feels like life is 5 steps ahead of you. At this time of year, I always feel it the strongest, as we launch this year’s websites and plans for 2017 and the holidays rush toward me.

The last few months have been a whirlwind of work, a move to Indiana, going remote with this job, a family trip to Phoenix, and huge holiday plans (like a trip to Philly) on the horizon.

I take comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who sometimes feels like life is barreling ahead of me. My brother and sister-in-law bought an old house around this time last year and have completely redone it, which has taken them all year. I don’t know how they’ve had the energy to do it all.

Finding Calm

When things feel like they’re spiraling out of control (which, I mean, usually feels like it’s all the time), I just have to remind myself to take moments for myself.

Sometimes, it means buying myself a latte.  Sometimes, it means training for a 5K I’ll never run. (My chiropractor recommends I don’t run outside because inclines are bad for my back.) Sometimes, it means building a terrarium (which I finally did), watching a movie I’ve been wanting to see, or just taking 5 minutes to cuddle my dog.

My Terrarrium
Can you spot my hidden fox?

And sometimes, it means just finding a way to clear my mind. Cooking has always been one of the best ways for me to do that, and I’ve been trying out recipes from the Skinnytaste Cookbook.

Skinnytaste Cookbook

Skinnytaste's Chicken ParmMy favorite so far has been an amazing chicken parm made with whole wheat bread crumbs and homemade tomato sauce, and it’s baked instead of fried.

And recently, I’ve found those adult coloring books are a great way for me to clear my mind. They’re the perfect balance of intricate and easy.

New Healthy Habits – Meditation

I’ve been thinking about picking up something like meditation to get that same coloring book clarity. Our online wellness tool, Rally, has a mission to meditate for 20 minutes a day that can help you give meditation a try.

And these tips can help you get started with meditation. There are also lots of podcasts for you to listen to while you meditate, or this guide goes through some of the different approaches you can try to start meditating.

In the meantime, find whatever peace you can in the midst of the craziness.

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Relaxing Against Stress in Chicago

My Healthy Journey: Spring Cleaning Your Life

This last year has been a long and busy one, and I’m going to be pretty honest when I say I’m exhausted, filled with stress, and not feeling very healthy. The good news is that while I feel that way, it’s not entirely true.

I started working a lot of overtime last May, and it didn’t end until December. And even when I stopped working extra, I was still very busy when I was on the clock.

More than 46% of Americans’ workplace stress is caused by their workload, so I know I’m not alone in putting stress on myself to get things done. And when your levels of this kind of stress get too high, you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other disorders, according to The American Institute of Stress.

Then, in February, I started packing to move again. I tried my best to declutter my stuff. (I donated a lot of old clothes and tossed any traces of college notebooks and many unnecessary knick-knacks. And after moving all my books, I’m once again wondering if a Kindle is the way to go, but you just can’t replace the smell of physical books!)

From there, my pup and I moved into my friend’s apartment, where we’ve gained the company of this gorgeous (and crazy) puppy.

Quinn, Our New Friend

So you could say that I’m probably suffering from one problem that’s causing that exhaustion: stress, stress, and more stress.

The good news is I’ve been taking steps to fight it.

First, my boss and I worked out an arrangement where I get to work from home on some days. Not only does this make eating healthy easier (I don’t have to be as prepared in advance) and allows me to document my food on our Instagram any day of the week, but it also lets me have a few days a week that I know will be calm(er). No matter how crazy things online get, I’m sitting in my own bed with my best stress-buster, Tootsie, by my side.

Tootsie By My Side
I mean, just look at that face.

My friend is also a certified physical trainer, so, now hold your breath on this one… I’ve also been going to the gym! *gasp*

I know, it’s been building to this for over a year, and finally, I’m a pretty regular gym-goer.

The first day, I was shocked by how weak I’d really become (doing 10 real pushups was really hard), and I’ve had a number of realizations about how pullups make me hate everything. The first few weeks, I was so sore I could barely stand.

But I’ve finally hit a groove. Some days I run, others I’ve been focusing on simple weight training, mostly using body-weight exercises. And, I’m not sore all the time anymore, so we’re making progress!

As spring has rolled in, I’ve also been getting out with those lovely dogs more often to the park across the street. And even better, I’ve been taking full advantage of all that spring produce starting to show up at the grocery store.

Rally, our online wellness tool, has a mission that has you focus on fruits and veggies, which I’ve been working toward accomplishing. Essentially, you try to cover at least half of your plate with fruits or veggies at least twice a day. (Follow me on Instagram to see how I’m trying to work in more fruits and veggies.)

And most importantly, I took a short break. The American Psychological Association has some great ideas to help you bust up your workplace stress, including taking time to recharge.

I recharged by going to Chicago, where I ate some of my favorite food, like Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes, Eataly, and Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill.

Chicken Tacos at Frontera Grill
Best guac ever, chicken tacos, and black beans with plantains so good they will unleash your hidden love of plantains, all at Frontera Grill.

And I visited the Van Gogh art exhibit and Dylan’s Candy Bar, did a little shopping, and saw a wonderful live concert at the Chicago Theatre.

Chicago Theatre
(Son Little opening for Leon Bridges, if you’re curious.)

And how am I maintaining my sanity the rest of the time? I’ve been:

Scarf for My Sister-in-Law

  • Trying to work more fruit into breakfast and brunch

Fruit-Filled Brunch!

  • Focusing on salads and, pretty regularly, tacos inspired by those amazing ones from Frontera Grill (Just so you know, they have great seasoning packets available at most grocery stores!)

Tacos for Everyone!

 

And find more ways to relax from Nicole’s last Chasing Health post!

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Taking Back Relaxation in the New Year

My Healthy Journey: New Year, New You?

This year has been long and tiring, and for the last few weeks, I’ve been left wondering what I could say about my goals for 2016. Honestly, I hadn’t been thinking about goals for the new year, I was too busy trying to get through the day.

Unlike last year, I don’t have a long list of the things I plan to work on. Instead, it will be a few important things that just keep coming to the top of my mind when I think about my life.

Live my life with the day-to-day in mind

I tend to focus on the long-term, big picture stuff, which means that relaxing and fun usually take the backseat. I need to make my own happiness a bigger priority, even when it’s in the face of my goals. Life is short, and I will regret those lost moments with my friends and family one day.

One of my best friends just got engaged to someone wonderful, and she’s the first person (besides my brother) whose wedding will actually be important to me. This both makes me feel like I’m getting old (I know, most of the people who follow this blog are laughing at me there), and makes me feel like, by not living in the moment, sometimes I’m missing out. And I do not want to miss a moment of the good stuff for her wedding.

I’ll be using some of the tips from this Health.com 30-day calendar to help me get started.

Learn something or do something

For example, I want to write books one day. However, when I get home after writing for work all day, I rarely sit and write fiction. I need to prioritize learning to improve the things I love, the things I want to have long-term importance in my life. I think that taking action on these passions will make me feel more fulfilled, even if I never get a book published.

Spend some time on myself everyday

I was cooking everyday, and now I’m not. I was getting enough sleep, and now I’m not. No matter how hectic things get, in 2016, I need to make time for myself a priority, both to be healthy and happy.

(I’m going to start by using the gift certificate for a massage that I got for Christmas!)

Cut back on the stuff in my life

To gear up for another move come the end February (I know, I can’t believe it’s been that close to a year already), I need to simplify my life. Get rid of all the clothes I never wear from my retail days, my 3 old pairs of boots that all have holes in them, and the old perfume bottles I’ve been moving from place to place, and make it easier on myself to live as a nomad. Hopefully this simple guide to de-clutter can help me get started.

Spend less time in the virtual world

I spend almost all of my time online. Part of it is my job, and part of it is my desire to know more about a field I want to spend the rest of my career in, and part of it is getting sucked into scrolling through my own personal Facebook and Twitter for no reason for the 50th time that day.

(Does anyone else struggle with the need to always make it back to the last thing you’d seen on social media? I know it’s silly, especially since I know how Facebook works and that it’s already not showing you everything it could, but I get such obsessive satisfaction from making it back to the beginning.)

There are things in the real world that I love doing, but instead, I spend almost all of my time, free and at work, buried in a computer. It’s time to bring some analog, some print, and some real world back into my life.

Follow along with me as I dive back into my passions, clean up, and move yet again in 2016 on our Instagram.

And you can use the improved Rally app or site to set your own healthy resolutions for 2016. From quitting smoking and taking your pills on time, to making time for laughter or exercise, Rally can help you have a healthier year.