Statements made here are not for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All the information contained in this blog is for educational and informational use only. The information contained here is not intended to replace medical advice or be a substitute for a physician. Specific medical advice should be obtained from a licensed health care professional. Please consult your physician before you begin using any new dietary supplement, nutrition, or exercise program. As a user of this blog, you agree that neither the author nor the website assumes any liability for the use or misuse of the information contained in this blog. I hope my information is helpful to you, but make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
I align with the idea that being healthy does not mean that someone is simply free of disease and injury. It’s much more than that. In addition to being free of disease and injury, being healthy is an evaluation of other factors in one’s life such as sleep, stress management, movement, and nutrition.
There are so many benefits to getting a good night’s rest! When the body is at rest, powerful hormones are released, and you go into recovery mode. Sleep prepares the brain for learning a new skill and improves memory retention, especially in the deeper stages of sleep. A critical function in adolescents is synaptic pruning, eliminating neural connections that are no longer needed and making room for more substantial and better connections. Here are some tips for preparing for bedtime:
- Set the alarm 30 min before you want to go to bed and get off your phone/computer/TV
- Dim the lights around the house, try salt lamps for calming effects.
- Brew a “Sleepy Time” herbal tea
- Take a hot bath for 15-20 min – doing so will help DECREASE your core body temp, placing you in better sleeping conditions.
- Read a book
- Turn your thermostat down to cool your room.
- Avoid having a heavy meal close to bedtime. Give your body about 2hrs to digest larger meals.
A note about caffeine and alcohol; Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that makes you more alert. It has a half-life of 5-6 hours which means 50% is still in your body 10-12hrs after your last dose of caffeine. The lingering effects of caffeine change the quality of your sleep by decreasing the time spent in the deeper stages of sleep. Alcohol is a sedative; sedation is not sleeping. It switches brain cells and creates fragments in brain waves by triggering the flight or fight alerting chemicals. Alcohol may also block dream sleep (REM) which benefits emotional, mental, and creative health. I know this sounds like a bummer if you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a midday americano. Still, I’m just relaying information that was studied and produced by scientists. Read Matthew Walker’s “Why We Sleep.”
Stress is involved in many physiological responses. When we perceive stress, our muscles tense, breathe heavier, the heart pounds faster, and blood vessels dilate. Hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol are released. Your body goes into fight or flight mode. When safe, our body finds balance and returns to a natural state. However, when often faced with perceived stress, this physiological process may become chronic. This feedback loop of cortisol boost to your brain may predict adverse health outcomes like brain damage (shrinking of the Hippocampus – significant for memory & emotion), as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, and even death at the end. Correlations to stress are mental health disorders like major depressive, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders. It may promote unhealthy behaviors such as substance abuse and social withdrawal.
Stress can be beneficial, however. It prepares our body to fight or flight, which protects us from harm. It can also motivate us to set goals and accomplish them, and boost our productivity. Too much of a good thing may be harmful, so reducing stress is vital in improving your long-term health.
● Identify stressful triggers. Find out what situations cause you to become stressed by recording your stress levels and activities throughout the day. Write down all of your commitments and responsibilities. You may need to re-prioritize or eliminate specific tasks that are not essential.
● Challenge the way you think about a stressful situation. Examples are sleeping through your alarm, being stuck in traffic, work conflicts, family conflicts, illness, or injury. Assess the stressor. How will you react to your stressor? Will you accept it and think, “it is what it is”? Then find the best resolution to the problem and let it pass? Or will you react negatively, dwell and let it put you in a bad mood for the rest of the day? Practice learning to evaluate situations more constructively. It is not just thinking positively; it is thinking most helpfully.
● Build strong relationships. Strong social support can provide you with a buffer for stress. Families and friends can listen to your problems and provide you with help and advice, alleviating some of the frustration you are feeling. Social support has proven to slow down the brain circuitry that fires up during emotional pain.
● Get more sleep. There is a relationship between stress and sleep deprivation. Stress can keep you up at night, and sleep deprivation can contribute to your overall level of stress. To break the cycle, refer back and review nightly practices.
● Exercise regularly. Regular moderate exercise can help reduce stress levels. It is beneficial for your overall physical and mental health.
● Relax your body and mind. There are many relaxation techniques you can do for yourself. They include deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and imagery. These exercises help to clear your mind, slow down heart rate, and reduce muscle tension.
● Get help. When you still feel overwhelmed, consult a therapist or other mental health providers. You don’t need a severe mental health condition to seek professional help. They can help you with developing effective coping strategies.
Find an exercise that you enjoy. Don’t exercise because you HAVE to. Instead, remember the benefits of exercising and the good it makes you feel. Another benefit is giving love to your heart with cardiovascular training. Your heart is a big muscle too! Mental clarity is another fantastic benefit, especially during a cardiovascular activity like walking, jogging, or cycling. Consider strength training to increase strength and to move more comfortably. Benefits to having a little more muscle are functional strength and metabolic (energy processing) benefits. Who wouldn’t want to feel and be a little stronger?! Yoga is another excellent option that is gentle enough for beginners or modified for athletes. I love yoga for its benefits of increased flexibility and mobility and relieving discomfort from tight muscle tissue. I posted a great blog called “Yoga and Mental Health” on ironmindfitnessaustin.com. Take REST days when needed. Realize if you’re becoming obsessive about exercise. If strength stalls, you experience injuries, or you wake up with an elevated resting heart rate, then you may be over-trained. Take time off, and don’t beat yourself over it. It’s okay to hit the “reset” button from time to time.
Nutrition – (eat when you’re hungry, don’t eat when you’re not)
Eat when you’re hungry, and don’t eat when you’re not. Food should please you, not stress you. Go with whatever sounds good at the moment, like intuitive eating. Practice paying attention to how your body “feels” after a meal. Did your meal give you clean energy, elevate your mood, feel like it was just what you needed, and just the right amount of food? When I say “clean”, I mean that a “crash” did not follow your energy boost. Or did you feel tired, get a foggy brain, headache, digestion issues, or make you super thirsty? Try paying attention to how your body reacts and use it as a guide for future meals. Write your meals down in a journal and make notes about how you felt. Your body is more intelligent than you probably think, be gentle with it, and it’ll let you know what it needs to function at its best!