Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is Your Room Messy or Tidy?

Homeopathic practitioners will often ask you this question:

Do you have a messy room or a tidy room?

Why would someone want to know this while trying to assess your overall health?
Take a quick look around your room. What glimpse does this view give you into how you approach your health and life?

Maybe there are clothes everywhere, littering the floor, couches, and even spilling out from the laundry hamper. You may see clutter on tables and in corners of the room. If someone were to pick everything up and organize it, this may make you feel panicky. You're used to these orchestrated piles, and you definitely don't want the pressure of having to put everything back in its "correct place." That way of functioning feels too rigid for you. Now, there is not necessarily a direct comparison to make here to your health. Just take a look and see if there are any metaphors contained in that picture.

Maybe there is a part of your health that has felt disorganized or rumpled into a corner, and maybe it's felt familiar and even somehow comforting to have it that way. It could be that the thought of attending to this area of your health brings on feelings of panic or getting overwhelmed. Perhaps inside those piles of clutter littering mind-body health, there are nuggets of strength, potential healing, and direction that can take place. It's sometimes hard to tell unless you start peeling the metaphoric clothing off the pile on the floor, one by one.

Let's take a different scenario. Maybe you're just super tidy. You know where everything can be found in your house, even down to a loose paperclip you found on the floor last week and re-assigned to a new place. You form intimate relationships with every detail of your room and how it's organized. If you can't find something inside your room, the whole world feels wrong and out of place. You may start to sweat and run around frantically for a split-second before you remember the exact location in which you stored something away. Organization and tidiness means everything to you.

In terms of health, however, maybe everything's been just a little too micromanaged. It's hard for you to let loose and relax, and even though you exercise regularly, eat great, and sleep a full 8-hours, you feel somewhat strung out and stressed. You meticulously write in your planner daily, but somehow you still feel so behind and disorganized. It feels like it's never enough! It may be time to grab your planner and write the words "I need a break" in the margins somewhere to remind yourself that you're not shackled to it. It's a tool to help you, but it's not meant to control you.

Likewise, with your health, an ounce of paying attention to how you're really feeling physically and mental-emotionally can weigh more than a pound of eating, exercising, and sleeping perfectly. Why? Because you're giving a nod to your body and saying, "Hey--I know you're smart and you know what you're doing. I support you in that." No need to stop your daily regimens with diet and exercise, just remember not to be controlled by them. And sometimes enough is exactly that:  Enough.

The examples above show the extremes of "messy" versus "tidy." There is no good or bad in that, they're just your preferences (unless you're in the mood for a change). For you as an individual, your habits will be unique to you. Maybe you have one room that is tidy while all your other rooms are messy, or vice versa. Each of us has tendencies in how we organize our rooms, and that's just one of our quirks as unique human beings. It can be fun to look at that quirk and think, "Wow--how did you get here?" It's also insightful to see the hidden metaphors that these quirks sometimes present to you. So.....

.....Is Your Room Messy or Tidy?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What is Health?

If you enter medical schools across the nation, in theory- and philosophy-based classes you will hear the question, "What is health?" Attending a 4-year naturopathic medical school, believe me I heard that question at least once every one of those years.

So, what were the most insightful answers I heard? In fact, the classroom answers were nowhere near more exciting than seeing individual patients uniquely learn "What Health Is" for them during training and onward into practice.

I would say most people start off by feeling that if they only ate better, exercised more, had a more regular sleep schedule, and consistently took vitamins, their health would improve. There are also measures such as normal blood pressure, healthy lab values, etc. that people would like to see regarding their health.

Is that all it takes, though? What if you do all these things and you still don't feel the type of health that you want?

If you dig a little deeper, you notice that there are other simple measures of health that are no less important to pay attention to. Is someone tackling the challenges in front of them, and if not what are the obstacles between what they want and how they can get there? What are the attitudes and beliefs that are hindering that person from going for it?

Sometimes a fear is trailing an individual and tainting how they feel about many areas of life and health. The fear may try on larger sizes the longer it manifests. Fears can be learning opportunities, and they can also be a major drag when neglected.

Many people live with expectations placed on them daily that are not their own. How they should live, what they should do, how they should prioritize, what they should value. This is a very common human experience that affects health even more than how many Skittles you eat in one sitting or whether you stay up one hour too late.

What else? Well, the list goes on, but for each of us it is a unique experience to notice which challenges we face and in what ways they are either boosting our health or draining it. They key is to recognize that it's okay to ask yourself the question, "What is health?" and to listen to what your answer is alongside what your healthcare providers, blood pressure readings, and vitamin bottles are saying.

In fact, if you answer that question for yourself first you may find that the things you try toward your health work better. Where once you ate well and exercised and saw no improvement in weight, you may find that now weight is willing to come off naturally. Maybe once stress seemed impossible to manage, but now that you ask yourself the important question you're better able to frame how you approach stress.

So, as often happens, I'm going to end this blog post with a question. What is health....for you?

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Not Too Late--Motivate

Motivation at rest tends to stay at rest, and motivation in motion tends to stay in motion...unless acted on by an external force. What is that external force? It's me and you. When it comes to getting healthy and other goals, we all know in the back of our minds (if not at the forefront) that motivation plays a big part...and sometimes a lack of motivation is a big player too.

It can be tempting to slouch back in the mindset that "I haven't had the motivation up until what's the use?" when you're trying to eat healthier, exercise, lose weight, sleep better, get more energy, or achieve anything else in your health. Outside of health, the motivation we feel toward life overall often mimics how we feel about our health.

We all have Ups and Downs, but what do you do when motivation sinks a lot during the Downs? It's a tough feeling, because you can make so much progress during the "up" moments and watch it jump backward during the "down" moments. Guilt tends to bubble up as this happens, only making matters worse. When a goal once seemed clear and within reach, these slumps in energy and motivation can make every type of goal feel confusing again.

Don't worry, because it's not too late to motivate for your health and your life in general. If you want it, you can get it. How? Now that's a tricky question. Sometimes all the "How," "When," "Where," and "Why" questions can get in the way of your motivation rising naturally. If you're trying to track every step of how you'll get to your goal, you'll be less able to follow the clues that you stumble across just living life. Sometimes what can help bring motivation back into your life is to temporarily ditch the big looming questions and start with the statement "I want _________" (fill in the blank).

Next, ask yourself how much you use guilt or imposed expectations as fuel for motivation. The reason it's important to realize this is because these fuels don't burn as brightly to power your motivation. Making yourself feel guilty for things you do or don't do creates a cycle of not motivation, but of guilt. Even if you do accomplish steps toward where you want to go, you can't enjoy your healthy milestones as much when you're sharing them with guilt.

Likewise, if you're trying to motivate yourself for someone else's expectations for you, it becomes more of an uphill battle rather than a hearty challenge. Also try and recognize when your expectations for yourself are too high or burdensome.

Finally, remember that challenges will always arise when you're trying to get something you want, whether it be with health or with any other goal in life. Learning to ride the waves of ups and downs, instead of expecting all ups, will help you weather the storm and not backslide too severely in motivation when times are tough.

And when you do backslide, just remember that it's okay to fall--stand up, dust yourself off, and try it again. Remind yourself, I have it in me.

Put a Spring in Your Step--and in Your Mood

Are energy and mood related? It turns out your body and mind are the true experts in answering this question.

Think about the days when you feel most tired:  How does your mood feel? What about vice versa? We are both physical and mental creatures and for that reason, when energy is low we will most likely feel it throughout the body and the mind.

With the hustle and bustle of today's lifestyle, it can be easy to forget the relationship between energy and mood when we're busy or feeling overwhelmed with life's responsibilities. Sometimes when our mood feels low, we may overcompensate by expending more energy to keep up with expectations. Other times, when energy feels drained, we may show ourselves and the world around us a perky attitude so it's not as noticeable.

When the body and mind knock on the door and say, "Hey! I feel pretty tuckered out," it may be time to try a creative approach to health and lifestyle habits. Many times when this happens, it's because a pattern or rut has set in. It could be that stress at work and at home has made physical activity seem impossible. Maybe pressures on your schedule have crowded out healthy eating habits.

Even more simply, maybe the time you allot yourself for relaxation and enjoyment has gotten narrower and narrower. Whatever the case may be, when your mood is low your body is probably trying to tell you something about your overall energy level as well. After all, the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain are fueled by energy just as the rest of the body is. When energy is low, these neurotransmitters don't get the boost they need to keep your mood balanced.

What can you do? Aim to put a spring in your step and energy, thereby making it easier for your mood to lift naturally. Recognize whether your diet is making you feel more sluggish. If you're the kind of person who is energized by exercise but who is also low on time, try out weights, hiking, biking, or another form of movement once or twice a week. Call it movement instead of exercise, and you never know--it may feel easier to do. If all else fails to stick, turn on the radio and shake it out to your favorite music.

Along those lines, recognize when your physiology is asking for some rest and set out some time to relax and be with yourself. Been a long time since you enjoyed a meal and had enough time to chew it fully? Then mingle your relaxation time with your eating time.

Also ask yourself whether there are any lingering emotions or thoughts that may be dragging down your overall energy. Many times, energy and mood are like the chicken and the egg--it can be hard to tell which one started dipping first. No big on both of them!

As we move toward May and the flowers star to bloom, allow yourself to bloom too. Put a spring in your step, and your energy and mood will thank you for it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Health and Expression: Be Like the Potato

What can you do with a potato? You can mash it, you can bake it, or you can fry it. There are tater tots, hash browns, potato pancakes, french fries, potato chips, potatoes au gratin, and so on as far as the delicious potato dishes available. We too can be like the potato. How do I mean?

The potato has one personality--of being a potato. But within that form, there are a variety of expressions possible from a potato. There are tons of different angles depending on how it's served. Humans are more complex than a potato, but we can sometimes forget that in each individual the personality has different colors and varieties to it. We can be tempted to jump into one setting or mode of being because we are used to it and we are under the impression that others are used to it too.

Imagine what happens if you spend an extended amount of time in a new country. Say France. No one knows you at first. You are "?" as far as they, and in some ways you, are concerned. This is a freshly new territory to you and you don't have habits tailored to this new environment yet. So you try a few new things out here and there. It's slow at first. You learn the language. You use it and find that there are new ways of expressing yourself with this language.

You try out some new styles of the land, eat some foods you've never eaten, hear some music that's quite foreign to you. You learn that you're funny in a new way, maybe touched by different feelings, maybe dreaming new dreams.

You're still like a potato--as in, you're still you. But now you've seen new sides of your personality come out because you weren't fixed to being just one way. You couldn't do the same stuff anyway--everything was too new and unfamiliar.

Even though we can't always travel to new places and have this experience, this example shows you how it's possible to bring out different sides of the personality by stretching your horizons out a bit. This can be a physical stretching like what happens in new environments and new situations, but it can also be an internal stretching brought on by you to step out of your comfort zone.

It's like traveling to a new territory within your personality. You'll never know what you'll find there, what adventures lie in store, and what treasures you'll uncover until you go. It takes some courage, and some curiosity. And maybe afterward you'll see that you're facing challenges in a new way that is enhanced by your traveling. Go ahead and try it--be like the potato and mash it up a bit...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Fun and Your Health

What do you do for fun? Doctors don't often ask you this question in regards to health care, but maybe fun plays more of a role in health than we openly acknowledge. Think about how you feel after spending a weekend doing something that interests you, whether that is playing frisbee outside, seeing a new movie, or whatever activity that you enjoy doing.

Fun has great effects on both the body and mind. It gets your blood pumping, neurotransmitters flowing, and healthily engages your body and mind. Sometimes when life gets stressful, there is a tendency to skip fun because of all there is to do or think about. During these stressful times, your body will start hinting to you that it's time for a dose of fun. You may start to experience sluggishness, your mind may feel foggy, and your mood may throw more anxiety and irritability your way. You might feel just generally out of balance.

What your body's telling you is that it's time to shake things up a bit and distract yourself from the stress and worries. What is fun? These days, fun may conjure up images of watching videos online, playing on a tablet or smart phone, and catching up with social media. While these are all common forms of distraction and fun, it can be helpful to step away from the screens temporarily to try out other types of fun.

Fun can involve doing something new, surprising yourself by using a new talent, getting creative, or hanging out with friends. While these activities may seem obvious, they're some of the first ones we can neglect when stress enters the picture. Fun helps you grow, learn new things about yourself, and stretch your imagination.

Even though doctors don't ask how much fun you have, it's a good idea to ask yourself once in a while. Is there an activity that you enjoy that you haven't had a chance to do much lately? If so, rearrange your schedule a bit or write a reminder on a post-it note so that you hold yourself to getting back to it. See if a friend wants to join you if you think that would be fun. And for extra fun, ditch the screens for a day.

You'll most likely find that after having some fun, the daunting nature of stress, work, and other responsibilities softens around the edges. You'll feel renewed energy for dealing with the challenges that are on your plate and any others that might pop up. And you can say to yourself, "Hey--I had fun and feel better. I deserve it!"

So, the healthy question for this week is:  What do you want to do for fun?