Holiday Stress-Busting: Find a Happy Place {Wellness}

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Thanks to everyone who voted on The Chic Life’s Facebook wall for what I should blog next. I guess the cheesecake and doughnut recipes will have to wait because you wanted to hear about de-stressing first.

Since deciding recently to pay more attention to my general wellness, I’ve explored many different types of stress-busting and activities. I considered sharing them all in one blog post, but I think it will be better to do them one by one so people have time to share their thoughts on each one and digest the information. The title of this post implies that this de-stressing idea is only applicable for the holidays, but I think it should go year-round. Though, we could potentially use a little extra help around the holiday season. Am I right?

First up for de-stressing ideas, I want to talk about finding a happy place. I spoke to my Zumba class about this (except a much shorter version) last night, so it seemed like good timing to go with this one first. Oh, and this is my completely unscientific and not-so-researched advice, so if you’re looking for something more professional, try google. I’m just sharing my opinions as your blog friend. ;)

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Do you have a happy place?

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{Freeport, Bahamas – where I got married – a far away happy place}

I think there are many types of happy places, so this can be a difficult question to answer. I mean, there are physical happy places – places where you go that have positive energy or happy memories. There are happy places that you’ve longed to visit and dream about from photos. And there are many other types.

I’m talking about an easily accessible happy place where you can feel free from your daily stresses and challenges. Do you have such a place? If you don’t, maybe it’s time to find one.

I first really learned about the concept of a “happy place” from a woman, let’s call her Pattie, I met at a yarn shop I used to frequent. I took some knitting and crochet classes from Pattie and often hung out at the shop to relax and work on projects. Thankfully, she was there to help me if I ever got stuck on a pattern, to help fix my project when I dropped a loop or did something wrong, to lend me some confidence, and share a smile. The yarn shop was her happy place where she could focus on the positivity that the projects, people, and place gave her. One day, I found out that Pattie’s husband passed away. I was very sad for her and wanted to pass on my condolences, but the girls at the shop explained that I may want to do so carefully because Pattie wanted to maintain the yarn shop as her happy place. It became not only a place she naturally went to for general positivity, but also a place where, even just for a short time, she could try to forget her grieving. At the shop, Pattie could focus on the things that made her happy: not just yarn, but her beautiful creations, an inspirational atmosphere, and even just the act of helping her students, which she loves to do. It was and is a place where she could focus on all the positive energy and positive things around her.

It took me awhile to find my own happy place, but I did. And the best part for my happy place is that it isn’t a “place.”

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My happy place is my Zumba class. Not the room, not the building, not the place. It’s the class – the music, the moment, the energy in the room, and the smiles of the people in class.

No matter how stressed I am, no matter what’s going on in my life, my Zumba class is there to let me escape. I can leave my office with a headache, or even in tears, but my 60 minutes of Zumba can make me forget about it, even if just for a short time. I find it easiest to live in the moment when I’m in class because I just focus on the song (whichever one is playing at the moment), on the moves, on letting the music move me. I know this will sound kind of crazy, but if you can really learn to let go, you can feel the music and energy radiating through your body. Have you ever let music move you? Like in that moment, you’re living the song? It’s very freeing.

I leave all my worries behind when I get to class. And when I’m dancing, my mind is clear of any previous frustrations or distractions. I don’t think about how I really need to organize my house, how I have an important meeting the next day with the executives on my project, or how we have to spend a small fortune to get some plumbing fixed on our house. Nope. You know what I think about? Not much, actually. I don’t think. I let go. I sing, cheer, and dance my a-double-s off. I have a blast. I have fun. And it makes me happy.

Here are some things to think about to help you find a happy place:

  • Where is somewhere that you will not be distracted by your to-do list, daily stresses, or other worries?
  • What do you enjoy doing so much that you can really live in the moment?
  • What makes you smile?
  • Do you already do something that brings you joy and helps you “recharge your batteries”?

In this sometimes hectic holiday season, I think it’s important to find a happy place where you can retreat when you’re getting frazzled and stressed. It’s easy to let the fast pace around you pull you away from the activities and places you enjoy, but I believe that it’s important to make time for yourself, even if it’s just a little here and there. When times get challenging, make some time, go to your happy place, and do something you love. You’ll have new energy to tackle the rest of the holiday season, and I’m willing to bet you’ll feel better, too!

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Reader question: Did you figure out your happy place? What or where is it?

The Forgotten Component of Health: Wellness

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The Other Component of Health

I bet a lot of you reading think a lot about your physical and nutritional health, but do you ever think about your mental health? I remember when I first started doing Small Changes, Big Results by Ellie Krieger, almost four years ago now (click here to read about my journey), that wellness was my weakest area (nutrition and fitness were the other two). And this is likely a common problem, not just for me.

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According to Ellie:

“The third component of the program is often overlooked by fitness-minded people. They realize it is important to eat better and move their bodies more, but they’re surprised when I tell them there is one more key factor – to examine their lives to determine the biggest stressors, and figure out ways to reduce or eliminate them. You can learn to eat a nutritious diet and exercise regularly, but if you ignore your mental health and emotional well-being, you won’t feel good.”

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Oops. I know I’m guilty of this. What about you?

Stress: Pain in the Neck…Literally

I found myself rethinking my approach to healthy living when I woke up at 6:30am this past Sunday with excruciating neck pain. My neck had been sore most of the weekend, but on Sunday morning, I could barely move, and I felt sharp pain radiating from my neck even though I was just laying there. Not fun.

As I lay there, I wondered how to remedy my situation. I felt like traditional medicine would only focus on treating the symptoms with pain medicine. And though I did take some, I really wanted to think about my situation from a more holistic perspective. What was the cause of the pain? That was what I needed to fix, maybe for the present but mostly for the future. I didn’t have to think long before I came to the conclusion that I’d been working myself into the ground the past few weeks without giving de-stressing or relaxation a second thought. Heck, I couldn’t even make myself get a decent amount of sleep. Sound familiar?

Later that morning, my dad (we were visiting my parents) decided to turn to Dr. Weil for some advice, so he consulted his copy of “Spontaneous Healing.” I’d quote the book, but it’s at my parent’s house, and I just ordered it on Amazon today. Hopefully, I can share more later. But, basically, the book confirmed my suspicions. We read that neck pain, even if tied to a previous injury, is usually related to stress. Hmm…

I knew I’d been pushing myself a little (way?) too hard, but what was I doing about it to counter that stress along with other, everyday stressors? I tried to think back to the last time I’d paid any attention to relaxation and de-stressing. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d thought about either of those things. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d gotten at least 8 hours of sleep. In fact, as I tie all of this together, I’m reminded of how I didn’t pay as much attention to the wellness challenges of Small Changes, Big Results. I guess I’m stubborn like that. Always pushing rest and relaxation to the side burner. In some ways, I don’t feel like I deserve it. Like I haven’t earned it or something. Who knows.

Going Forward

But, I think it’s time to re-evaluate things. Healthy Living is about more than just food and fitness. And I guess I could just pop some pain medicine every time my body flips out, but I’d rather fix the cause than treat the symptoms. Stress is going to happen, but what can I do to minimize it? Additionally, what can I do to better handle it?

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According to Dr. Weil from this article:

“While it is always worth trying to change external situations that are destructive, keep in mind that you have a choice as to how situations affect you. In time, you can learn to change your reactions to them – simply making changes to what you see as the external aspect of stress (such as getting a new job, moving, ending a relationship) does not give people tools for managing future problems any better. Therefore it is also important to learn how to relax and protect yourself from the harmful effects of stress.”

So, what does this mean for you? If you’re good at relaxing and handling your stress, then, probably not much. And I’d be surprised to see you’re still reading this, though maybe my train-wreck-workaholic-self does lend some entertainment value. Either way, I hope to be more like you one day. But if you’re stressed out like me…if you’re paying little or no mind to rest and relaxation, then I invite you to start doing so.

My Plan for Better Managing Stress

My plan is to spend more time (even if only 5 minutes a day) focusing on relaxation and learning how to better handle stress. I think I’m going to take another look at my SCBR book and maybe do just the weekly wellness challenge for the next 12 weeks. But, I’m also planning to do additional research to find more helpful info. It’s time to pay more attention to the third aspect of healthy living – wellness. Care to join me?

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You can start now.

Challenge: The first challenge in SCBR is to spend 5 minutes focusing on your breath. Pay attention to how it changes. Do you feel more relaxed? I tried this last night right before bed and fell asleep. Not sure if that’s what Ellie was going for, but I did feel more relaxed, at least. I’m not going to give away all of Ellie’s challenges, but this 5 minute breather is one that is simple enough, anyone should be able to include it in their daily activities. If I can do it, you can too!

Ready for more?

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Reader questions: Do you devote time to relaxation? How do you handle stress? Do you have any recommendations for further reading on relaxation and stress-management? Please share in the comments!

Sunday Prep Day + Groceries

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I started today on a positive note. :D

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Though I was way too late to participate in the contest, I still wanted to do Angela’s Size Healthy label update. I wrote my new size “healthy” on my skinny black jeans. So fun and encouraging. If you haven’t done this to one of your pants yet, go for it!

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As for breakfast, I decided to do something with the Earthfare organic unsweetened apple sauce I have in the fridge, almost at all times.

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Since I’ve started reading food labels, I’ve think I’ve started making better and better food choices to become a more clean eater. The last time I checked out traditional applesauce labels, even those marked “all natural” contained high fructose corn syrup.

This apple sauce contains “fresh, whole, triple washed certified organic apples” – no extra sweetener. Now isn’t that a novel idea?!

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I decided to stir some applesauce into my oatmeal.

Applesauce Oatmeal

Pre-cooking:

  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup (the last of my) extra thick oats
  • 1/2 tsp flaxseed
  • 1/2 container (about 1/4 cup) applesauce – I ate the other half while I cooked my oats

I brought the water to a boil and then cooked the oats stove top till thickened up.

Post-cooking:

  • 3 tbsp skim milk – organic – stirred in while still in pot to warm through
  • sprinkle sliced almonds
  • 1/2 packet of Starbucks dried fruit – raisins, cranberries, blueberries – given to me by a co-worker for free. Score!

The verdict: Applesauce wasn’t my fave mixin. I definitely prefer pumpkin. The applesauce had a sort of “grainy” texture that was ok to eat, but not something I see myself craving. I do really like pieces of apple in my oats still.

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The weather outside was gorgeous today so I rocked a skirt and some knee-high boots to run errands with hubby. I can’t wait till spring gets here!

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While we were out shopping we got some snacks – some iced yerba mate tea (love this stuff! so tasty, so good for you)

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And half a strawberry scone.

Groceries

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We picked up some groceries for dinner and the week ahead: vine-ripened, pesticide-free tomatoes, baby romaine, bag of organic yellow onions, organic bananas, organic navel oranges, some salad bar toppings (since it’s just me and hubby eating, I find getting toppings from the salad bar can sometimes be more cost-effective rather than buying whole sizes of each food).

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We also got 2 boxes of Annies mac and cheese (on sale) and some vegan vegetable boullion no salt added cubes.

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Plus some more dark chocolate – Green & Black’s organic Dark 70% chocolate – so smooth, so yummy. I think I need to eat some of this tonight.

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For the home, we got some eco-friendly supplies: Scotch Brite Greener Clean – scour pads and bamboo wipes, plus the new method laundry detergent (need to write a review on this once I’ve had the opportunity to try it out) – get a $2 off coupon by clicking here.

Sunday Prep Day – Ellie’s Roasted Tomato + Black Bean Soup

I’ve decided that Sunday will become my official Sunday Prep Day. I’ve almost always tried to prepare for the week ahead the day before the week starts, but now I’d like to share my schedule with you guys in case it helps other people. I’m working on nailing it down, so for now, I’ll just share what I did today.

For a meatless dinner, I decide to try one of the recipes from Ellie Krieger’s new book – So Easy. I went for the Roasted Tomato + Black Bean soup (found the recipe online here – click).

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I used the tomatoes we picked up today to start dinner. They were so vibrant and red and pretty!

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I got one extra tomato to eat on salads later this week. I went ahead and rinsed it and chopped it up today to save prep time later in the week.

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I got the tomatoes, onions, garlic, and EVOO started roasting in the oven and then hubby and I took Bailey for a quick walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the last of the day’s sunshine.

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When we got back the veggies were nearly done roasting so I was able to continue dinner.

I used 3 cups of vegetable stock I had leftover from the vegan chickpea casserole I made the other night.

For the last 2 cups of stock required, I used 2 cups of water and a vegan vegetable boullion cube.

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I got to bust out my immersion blender. I love using it!

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Hubby and I made some cheese toast with some dried herbs for seasoning.

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All together – with the rest of my yerba mate tea.

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I served the soup with a dollop of plain OIkos greek yogurt (instead of the recommended sour cream). Plus, fresh cilantro gave the dish a burst of bright flavor.

Not sure if you’ve noticed but I’m a BIG fan of using fresh herbs. Not only do they brighten the flavors of food, but I think almost all of them are good for you too. Even cilantro (click for info on cilantro and coriander health benefits).

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The soup was really good. I loved the rich roasted flavor with the chili powder and cumin. The dollop of greek yogurt gave a creamy bite and the cilantro really took the flavor over the top. Served with whole grain bread, this meal became complete.

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I even have a couple servings to take to work this week and a couple to freeze for later.

While we ate dinner, I let the soup cool down a bit. Once we were done eating, I ladled the soup into various tupperware containers to cool even more. I always try to bring my soups to room temp before placing in the fridge or freezer.

In fact, they’re probably ready now!

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TCL Pages + Content Suggestions?

In other news, have you checked out my pages (check out the links along the top of my blog, just under my header image)? I’m working on updating and adding new pages as time permits.

Recently, I’ve added or updated the following pages:

  • Motivation – Challenges or other encouraging ideas
  • Best Posts – My best ideas, tips, and articles
  • Recipes – A collection of links to recipes posted here on TCL – original and adapted

If you have a page you’d like to see me put together or if you have questions you’d like me to answer, please send them via my Formspring page or shoot me an email at thechiclife at gmail dot com.

PS: Head’s up – I’ll be posting a poll to gauge you guys for what kinds of content you’d like to see here on The Chic Life. I’d love to get some more feedback so I can continue to give you, my dear readers, the content you want to see.

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