Tag Archives: mind

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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Busting Your Stress for Stress Awareness Month

Stress Awareness Month

It’s Stress Awareness Month, and 30% of Americans feel it affects their physical health. Relaxing is good for your heart and mind and can reduce the chance of stroke, colds, obesity, depression, and breast cancer.

Try aromatherapy with citrus scents, which can reduce stress.

Aromatheraphy and Your Stress Levels

 

Reading for just 6 minutes could reduce your stress by 68%, which is more than some other popular de-stressing methods.

Reading to Relax

 

Looking for a snack to take the stressful edge off your afternoon? Try these.

Smart Snacking Instead of Stress

 

Science has found that your dog can reduce your stress, especially if you take it to work.

The Ultimate Stress-Fighter

 

Try the Chocolate Meditation for an easy and tasty intro to the stress-busting activity.

Conscious Chocolate Consumption

 

Whether you’re trying to meditate, get better sleep, or be inspired, these apps can help you reduce stress.

Apps to Beat Anxiety

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Warm and Cozy Winter Relaxation

Chasing Health: Writing, Resting, and Winning Winter

Even with an occasional 60-degree day, February isn’t exactly my favorite month for getting active (or doing anything really, except maybe watching college basketball and catching up on TV shows). I prefer to spend my winter under a warm blanket with a giant sweatshirt and my bunny slippers, remote in hand, butt on couch.

The Infamous Bunny Slippers

As someone who thinks the first snow of the season is magical and who saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens (chock-full of hope from crawl to credits) three times this winter, I know if I’m running a little low on hope and motivation, lots of others probably are, too. After the holiday goodies go stale, I’m kind of done with winter. The mere thought of being outside in the cold makes me cringe. (Once again, thank goodness for those rare warm February days.)

Despite the snow, ice, and occasional subzero wind chills (gross), you don’t have to hibernate for the whole season. A little rest mixed with a hobby here and there is a great recipe for a productive and satisfying winter, even if you’re like me and think stepping outside in the cold is pure torture.

Winter is the perfect time to knock some indoor projects, big or small, off your to-do list. Hobbies can be great for your overall health, even if they’re not fitness related, by helping you reduce stress and sharpen your mind. And there’s no shame in resting, either.

In fact, relaxation is healthy, too. It not only helps refresh your mind, but it also helps lower your risk for certain diseases. Relaxation doesn’t mean lying in bed all day doing nothing. You can take some time to do something you love, catch up with a friend or family member on the phone (or in person if you’re ready to brave the cold), or try a new, relaxing hobby.

Winter is a gift-wrapped, guilt-free excuse handed to us each year (at least in the northern half of the United States), allowing us to put off our outdoor activities for about three months.

I need to cherish that gift, and here’s a short list of how I plan to do so with a mixture of stimulating and relaxing hobbies. You can customize the list and make the most of winter, too.

Nicole’s Ultimate Relaxation & At-Home Projects List

Make my dream a reality.

Although writing is literally my job, after years of writing about real-life events and health facts, I want to try my hand at fiction. I’ve dreamed of writing a novel since grade school, and it’s at the top of my bucket list (or sunshine list, as my friend aptly named it).

The verdict is still out on whether I’m any good, but this item is mostly about achieving a personal goal. Plus, writing is the perfect indoor activity for me (I can wear my bunny slippers AND make my dream come true).

Complete a major organization project.

Although it’s not quite as empowering as writing an entire novel, I would love to someday have every photo I’ve ever taken, or at least the good ones, organized both digitally and in print. (Not having printed photos makes me uneasy every time I watch a post-apocalyptic TV show or movie). Like my book, this one will take more than a season, but it’s another activity I can do inside.

I’m staying away from scrapbooking, though. I learned firsthand while creating a (very thorough) scrapbook of my senior year of high school that my perfectionism and scrapbooking don’t mix well when stress relief is my goal.

Take something old and make it new.

I spent a large chunk of last winter painting Mason jars to use as brightly colored vases in my apartment. I also started saving and painting olive, pickle, and pepper jars in the process, and suddenly, I had a winter hobby. I love olives, pickles, and peppers almost as much as candy, so my collection grew pretty quickly.

They were easy to paint (there are different techniques with varying degrees of difficulty) and reminded me of spring.

Mason Jar Project

Get active.

There are plenty of physical activities you can do without getting out in the nasty weather. Last winter, I started a step challenge. I got a LOT of steps, about 10,000 per day, sometimes closer to 20,000, mostly by walking around my apartment during commercial breaks, sporting events, and phone conversations. (Sorry, downstairs neighbors.)

I sometimes also do pushups, squats, crunches, and various other exercises while watching TV, and my all-time favorite exercise, dancing, is living room-friendly as well. Basically, as long as dancing and/or being able to watch TV is on the table, I’m a fan of exercise.

Channel my inner kid.

I’m somewhat of an expert at this one. For instance, I ate SpaghettiOs while writing this blog post.

Anyway, adult coloring books are a thing now. My co-workers and I have started having coloring nights after work. I use a kid coloring book, though. To me, the adult ones look too tough to be fun, and I’m a bigger fan of Disney characters than abstract designs anyway.

Coloring books can help you relieve stress and relax while also stimulating your brain, and they’re a nice indoor escape.

Get Coloring

Health Alliance Coloring Club
Health Alliance’s Coloring Club

Spruce up for spring.

Spring sprang in my apartment about a week ago because, like I’ve mentioned again and again, I’m tired of the cold. Decorating helps me cut back on boredom and allows for some creativity. Once it’s done, it’s a daily reminder that spring isn’t too far away. I highly recommend this one.

Spring Decor Everywhere

Enjoy those rare warm days.

If it’s going to be 60 degrees outside (or even upper 50s), I intend to get out and enjoy the spring-like temperature. As much as my relaxation and indoor projects list motivates me, nothing is quite as motivating as being able to go outside on a sunny day in a spring jacket.

 

Disclaimer: While the items on this list can help you fight boredom, escape from stress, feel accomplished, and stimulate your mind, they’re not magic. Winter will still be winter.

When the relaxation and indoor hobbies aren’t masking the winter grind, just remember, jelly bean season is in full swing, and pitchers and catchers reported this week. Spring will come.

Jelly Bean Season!

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Me Time Crafting

My Healthy Journey: Me Time

I feel like I have spent the last month drastically overhauling my physical life. And I have. But now, I’m ready to focus on making me time and self-care.

While I’m giving you advice on how to succeed at Rally challenges, I’m kind of doing them all at the same time. For the first time since high school, I’m exercising every day. And for the first time ever, I have radically overhauled my diet. Like I’ve said the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking at home every day and am eating more whole grains, fruits, and veggies, and I’ve cut out caffeine, processed foods and sugars.

So although there are still plenty of food mission posts to come, so you can use my new experiences to help you succeed, in my head, these are a little bit like old news. Been there, conquered that.

But as you can probably guess, now that I’ve settled into a rhythm, this isn’t actually what I spend all day thinking about. As a matter of fact, not focusing on this stuff is exactly how I got so unhealthy.

Now that healthy eating is more of a habit for me, though, I’d like to talk about something that feels more like real life to me. You know, the stuff that occupies my mind all day.

If you’ve been following along with me (from my writing to going all out for Halloween), you probably know that I like being creative. This job definitely requires a degree of creativity. I spend most days writing, picking out photos, and cruising Pinterest, which means that when I go home and crash into bed to watch Netflix with my dog, I don’t really feel guilty.

But I have spent my life going through creative phases. I like to learn new things, and I like to make things, which has made my life a long line of creative experiments. Over the years, I’ve mastered soap making, candle making, jewelry making, origami, juggling, the yo-yo, theater makeup, knitting, and crocheting, to name a few. And not only do these random projects (sometimes) leave me with nice, new stuff, creativity has many benefits.

I find that creative activities relax me. They let me disengage from the stress of my work and social life and just do something I enjoy. They also make me feel accomplished. When you write a blog post, take a picture, even make a nice meal, you don’t always feel like you’ve actually added anything to the world. But even these simple creative activities can make you feel like you’ve achieved something. That plain piece of paper is a heck of a lot cooler as a swan.

And I’m not the only one. As this CNN article talks about, we stress creativity in our kids because it matters. Even as funding for the arts falls in high schools, most parents with preschoolers still know finger painting and coloring matter.

Creativity helps you believe in yourself, learn to deal with failure, continue to learn throughout your life, and even know yourself better. And the more you exercise that learning portion of your brain through fun stuff, the easier learning things for say, work, can get.

And that’s why Rally also has a mission to help you remember to do something creative. This is one of my favorite missions on Rally because that creative stuff can get really lost in the shuffle of daily life as you get older, but it really is important to make time for it once in a while.

So here are some of the projects I’ve done or am planning to do that feed my creative side. Maybe they will inspire your own creative juices.

1. Write something

As I’ve said before, you never really know what all you can get out of writing until you start. Maybe you won’t end up with a finished product you can use, but you can definitely get something creative and fulfilling out of talking to yourself through writing.

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2. Decorate something

I recently painted a shelf gold for my new(ish) apartment, which I will show you when I talk about organizing . But if you’re anything like me (or my HGTV-addicted mother), few things are as satisfying as making something beautiful or helpful that you use in your house every day. If you’re looking for some cool and affordable DIY projects (and tips) for your home, explore this list.

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3. Make some art

I have the advantage of knowing how to use some software that lets me create some pretty fun artwork for my walls, which is great because drawing isn’t always my strong point.

But you can always find a quote that you love, make it look pretty, and hang it. And sometimes, with a nice frame, your doodles can look amazing on your walls, too. Or just spend a day scrapbooking and reliving some good memories.

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4. Grow something

I’ve never really thought about myself as a plant person, but it turns out, I kind of am.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m obsessed with terrariums, and I own an orchid. I also recently bought a lavender topiary on a trip to Nashville. It smells amazing but requires regular trimming.

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But the biggest way I think I just have to expand my plant collection is by growing indoor herbs. There are loads of different kits online and plenty of advice. Fresh herbs are expensive, but they make every meal so much better! I end up throwing a lot of the ones I buy away because they go bad before I can use them all.

Home Herb Pots

Growing your own herbs means you can have a never-ending supply of the ones you use most, and they won’t go bad. I think I will go with mint, cilantro, basil, and rosemary, but you go with what you will use!

And of course, if you’re interested (and don’t live in a tiny apartment), growing a full garden can be amazing. It would be great exercise to work outdoors, and the fresh fruit, veggies, and flowers you get out of it can only add good things to your home.

5. Sew (or knit or crochet or …) something

There are tons of books out there to help you learn these sorts of things, and better yet, lots of free (or cheap) patterns all over the Internet. And nothing else I’ve ever made is as satisfying as the things I can wear. When people ask where they can buy something you made — there’s nothing better!

If you love fashion and want to learn to sew, I have the book for you: Famous Frocks by Sara Alm and Hannah McDevitt.

Famous Frocks Cover

My mom got this for me for Christmas one year, and it has patterns so you can make your own versions of some of the most famous dresses from this century. (They also have a Little Black Dress version!) It is a little pricey at about $20, but you get 20 dress patterns with it. That’s a whole new wardrobe!

Etsy is also the place to go to find cheap, wonderful patterns. For instance, I plan on making a  complete set of these cross-stitch cities from Satsuma Street for adorable nursery art the second my sister-in-law gets pregnant.

3 Pretty Little City Patterns

And there’s no place better for knitting patterns. If you like The Hunger Games movies, this pattern of Katniss’s amazing scarf from Catching Fire was just $5 and took me just 2 days to make:

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Creativity time is my me time. It’s when I get away from the hectic demands of my life and just make something. So the important thing is to take the time to try something new and make something you love!

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Fight the Common Food Allergy

Food Allergy Awareness Week

It was Food Allergy Awareness Week, so we had more info each day.

Find ways you can help raise awareness!

FARE_Poster_No_Crop
Image via FARE

 

Millions of people suffer from different kinds of allergies, and there are a lot of myths around them. Get informed on the facts:

Allergy Myths Dispelled
Image via Allergy Be Gone

 

This handy app, LifeCafe Healthy Pantry, can also help you find out what allergens are in your food. Search for it in your app store!

Peanuts are one of the most common food allergies for kids, but there are other nut butters you can try!

Nut Butter Alternatives

 

Eggs are another common food allergy, but there are easy substitutions you can try while cooking so you won’t even notice they’re gone:

Egg Substitutions
Image via Swanson Health Blog

 

If you’re allergic, or just avoiding added sugar, these are some of the best sugar alternatives to try.

Sugar Alternatives

 

Still adapting to a new food allergy? Or never found a good alternative? This chart can help you find options when you’re cooking:

This for That Chart
Image via eReplacementParts.com

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Reading and Writing for Your Mind

My Healthy Journey: Reading and Writing for Your Health

Reading for Your Health

I’ve said it before on here, but I’ve always loved reading and writing, and I’m not always very good at making time for it. I read a lot of news but not that many actual books anymore. Funny, because I don’t have any furniture in my apartment, besides the books on books.

Book CollectionAll the books on the floor are going to go on a shelf that’s not here yet… (Tootsie, my dog, was really confused as to why I was taking pictures of this mess.)

It’s been one of my goals to make it more of a priority again. In the past month, I’ve read both Mindy Kaling’s book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” and Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please” (which has really wonderful and funny advice for young women), and I just started Stephen King’s “On Writing,” which makes me want to stop everything and write.

But there are lots of reasons to read and write every day. Rally, our wellness tool, has challenges for just that, so you can make your brain a priority. In one, it challenges you to read for 20 minutes, and in another, to write in a journal every day.

So what’s this doing for your health?

Reading has been shown to slow memory loss, increase concentration, and reduce stress. Not to mention, one study found that reading helped improve your social skills, your ability to understand others and their emotions, and your ability to feel for others. Reading can literally help you treat other people better!

Not to mention that taking 20 minutes a day to read with your kids can make an amazing difference in their education and development.

Read Aloud 15 Minutes InfographicReadAloud.org

Not sure where to start? This 2015 Reading Challenge from Popsugar gives you goals without locking you into a set of books you wouldn’t choose for yourself.

Popsugar's 2015 Reading ChallengeSo far I’ve got a funny book, a memoir, a mystery or thriller, and a book from an author I love that I haven’t read yet checked off for the year. What can you check off?

Writing for Your Health

And there are LOTS of reasons to keep a journal. Don’t believe me?  Here are 101 reasons.

I’ve never been much of a journal writer (my writing brain drifts toward fiction), but as I’ve said here more than once, I love lists.

And that’s the beauty of keeping a journal! There’s always a way to make it work for you. Here are some alternatives to the traditional “Dear Diary” format.

  • Don’t want to write about your feelings? You can keep a journal without it being personal. Keeping a work journal can help you stay organized and productive.
  • A bullet journal helps you organize and categorize your tasks, events, notes, and ideas quickly with lists.
  • Do you want to mix things up in your writing? If you want to paint a picture one day and write fiction or poetry another, there are creative journal tips to help you.
  • If you’re more of an artist than a writer, guess what?! Doodling boosts memory and creativity. And believe it or not, it’s a thing some companies are actually paying to teach their employees. Here’s why, how, and what you should be doodling.

I’ve been keeping a form of a bullet journal in my fitness binder on that handy grid paper I told you about. It’s really just a record of the most important things that happened to me that day that I can easily find later. I use other elements of this in my work to-do list and in organizing things like the social media topics I’ve done in the past. Below is a taste of what mine looks like, or this blog has really good examples of this in action.

Bullet Journal(Don’t mind the ghost talk in the middle there if you can read it. That’s just me noting  a plot idea for a fictional horror story.)

This lets me keep lists instead of trying to write a paragraph about things that don’t need any emotion or explanation. And my favorite part is it helps me organize things like character and story ideas, something I am known for jotting on anything around me until I have a strange collection of crumpled notes on things like napkins, CD sleeves, or even mail.

Head over to Rally, take your health assessment, and start meeting your goals for strengthening your mind!

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Brain Awareness and Communication

Brain Awareness Week

It was Brain Awareness Week this week which is sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience to teach students all about the amazing power of the brain. We will be giving you interesting info about your brain each day this week.

First up is a TED talk all about how one team is mapping how your brain works.

Mapping Your Brain

 

Ever wondered why that song is stuck in your head? It’s called an earworm! Learn more about this interesting brain phenomenon.

Dancing Earworms

 

When you hit your thumb, that’s where you think the pain is. But actually, it’s in your brain. Listen to this NPR story about how pain is really in your head.

Hammer and Thumb

 

Smell has a huge impact on your life. It’s even the number one sense that triggers memories. But how does it really work? It’s all about your brain.

Homemade Smell

 

The power of expectations makes the placebo effect possible. Learn more about this power of your brain.

The Power of Placebo

 

How does your brain use chemicals to communicate? Scientists have unlocked the process of neurotransmitters.

What actually happens to you on a sugar rush? This podcast tells you all about your brain on sugar.

Your Brain on Sugar

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