Archive for ‘Simple Soutions’

June 19, 2018

Notice What Feels Good to Improve the Feeling in Your Gut

When you’re in distress, it’s hard to notice what feels good. If your head hurts, it draws your attention. If your tummy hurts, it draws your attention. If you suffer a loss, the resulting sadness, emptiness and fear draw your attention. When four or five difficult things happen during a short period of time, the feeling in your gut may be so stressful it can become increasingly difficult to notice what feels good.

I suppose it’s the same phenomenon as the squeaky wheel. If some part of us is screaming for attention, that’s where our energy goes. Unfortunately, over a long period of time this shift in focus can become a habit. When the focus on distress becomes intolerable, we tend to do anything we can to avoid feeling it. We often numb ourselves with work, shopping, sex, exercise, binge-watching, gaming, alcohol, or drugs.

Is there a way to feel the good in the midst of hardship?

You’ll find a lot of things written about practicing gratitude. I’ve written some myself. You’ll find a lot of information about being present in the moment. You’ll find resources on showing up authentically and practicing vulnerability. You’ll hear psychological professionals toss around the term self-care. You’ll hear religious leaders espouse prayer. Yeah, yeah, yeah. There is merit to all of these practices, but if you’re white-knuckling yourself into doing them, you may need to go backward to go forward.

Over the past few years as I’ve become able to sit still, able to practice yoga, able to know that intellectual insight will follow trusting my body’s signals, I have become increasingly aware that ease, comfort, stability, and balance are often present when I slow down and shift my focus.

After noticing a feeling of tension in my back, I may notice a feeling of ease in my right abdomen. If I hold onto that feeling of ease, I may feel my back relax. When I feel anger or agitation begin to bubble up, I may notice that synchronizing my movement and breathing causes the tension to quickly dissipate. Remembering that when some part of my body is working, another part is at ease allows me to shift my focus to notice ease more often.

It is this noticing of physical ease and comfort that helps me unknot the discomfort in other parts of my body. The unknotting of my mind always follows. Yes, always. The shift is often tiny. The key is making the space to notice. It is in the noticing that I reconnect with my body. It is in the noticing that I reconnect with real emotions. It is through breathing that I build resilience, confidence, and safety.

Notice that the only connection here is with myself? Notice there is no analysis required? Notice that I don’t try to figure anything out? Notice that I am not forcing myself to do anything? I can simply breathe and notice. Breathe and notice. Breathe and notice.

I have gone back to absolute basics. It sounds so simple. It is and it isn’t. If you’re like me and surrender feels like giving up, it’s one of the hardest concepts in the world! It has literally taken me years to even begin to surrender and I am still a beginner.

If you stabilize your world through control, hold your breath, or muscle through difficult situations, this post may seem like the most ludicrous thing you’ve ever read. When you reach the point that all of that muscling through leaves you with anxiety and constant panic, come back. Read it again.

The bottom line is, yes there is a way to feel good during hardship. It comes from what some would call receiving. That term confuses me, so I’ll call it noticing — noticing breath, ease, comfort, accomplishment, a feeling of solidness your legs provide, a feeling of strength, a feeling of contribution, a feeling of connection, a feeling of competence, a feeling of possibility, and a feeling of power.

When you’re noticing those things, you are not noticing a feeling of tension, a feeling of heaviness, a feeling of pain, a feeling of sadness, a feeling of loss, a feeling of fatigue, a feeling of panic, a feeling of overwhelm, a feeling of anger, a feeling of powerlessness, a feeling of helplessness, a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of worthlessness, a feeling of doom, a feeling of bracing for the next shoe to drop, etc.

You are not wrong for feeling any of these things, but in an odd way, noticing the opposites will allow you to stop avoiding, fighting, numbing, or trying to move away from “negative” feelings (feelings are feelings and all are okay). All feelings can then move freely instead of remaining stuck in our physiology and psyche.

How all of this works is understudied, but we are learning that yoga practiced specifically to reconnect trauma patients with their bodies affects change in their brain scans. We are also learning that gut neurons communicate with the insula in the brain — the area believed to control compassion and empathy, perception, motor control, self-awareness, cognitive functioning, and interpersonal experience.

Body, brain, emotions, and perception share a complex relationship. We can’t necessarily think or talk our way through an emotional problem, set good boundaries, or move on from trauma without reconnecting with our bodies. When we reconnect, our gut flora may affect our perceptions.

The easiest path I know to feeling better is to start with basics – eat a variety of as fresh as possible food with minimal sweets, stay hydrated, sleep at least 8 hours per night, incorporate yoga for trauma and/or guided meditation into your exercise plan, and strengthen your boundaries.

Then…
Notice the feeling of being nourished by your food. Time your eating so that you never feel distressed by hunger.
Notice how you feel when you awake rested and how you feel the first moment you become tired. Do not push past your tired feeling. Take a nap or go to bed.
Choose yoga that emphasizes your control over the process, moves slowly, and has an instructor with a soothing manner and voice.
Practice giving yourself permission to prioritize yourself. Notice how that feels.
Use a physical boundary to help yourself visualize your limits. Verbalize your boundaries when needed.
Notice a feeling of ease each time you notice a feeling of tension.
Notice how you feel when you make a decision that’s unlike previous decisions in similar situations. If you feel peaceful, calm, relieved, energized, freer, happy, joyful, or even neutral

With these simple steps, you may be surprised how quickly you begin to automatically notice what feels good! That can have a very positive effect on the feeling in your gut!

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/

http://besselvanderkolk.net/the-body-keeps-the-score.html

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/yoga-perfect-home-workout/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/gratitude-is-my-best-defense/

May 28, 2018

You May Need a Nap

If you’re eating well and exercising, but everything feels like a bigger deal than usual, you may need a nap. You may need more than a single nap. You may need more sleep on a regular basis. If you’re under a significant amount of ongoing stress, you may need a good night’s sleep, a nap, and additional down time.
nap
My father-in-law swore by the 20-minute power nap. One of only 3 physicians in a town of 7000, he worked long hours. Every day at lunch, he’d come home to eat and then sleep in his recliner for 20 minutes. He didn’t set an alarm. He just woke up ready to go back to the clinic. He seemed to take the long hours in stride, so I guess naps worked for him.

Each of us has individual sleep needs. A regular 20-minute power nap may work for some while others need a full 8 hours each and every night. Others may function well on 6 or 7 hours during the week supplemented by 10 to 12 on the weekend. Because the particular rhythm is individual, it can be difficult to determine when a lack of sleep first begins to cause problems.

Like many conditions, the effects of sleep deprivation compound slowly over time tricking us into thinking we’re experiencing something normal rather than problematic. Failing to recognize and correct the problem slowly erodes emotional resiliency, the immune system, and our overall health. Early signs could be that you notice feeling more than tired or irritable. Perhaps you feel foggy, forgetful, or have minor hallucinations. Perhaps you feel more anxious than usual or seem to lack the joy that you previously felt. Any of these can be indicators that you are not getting enough rest.

We all have long to-do lists and such an expectation of immediacy that it can be tempting to ignore our bodies’ signals until we reach the point of exhaustion or other health concerns. Obviously, it is better to recognize the signs early and remedy the problem before it affects our immune systems or leads to a chronic condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

Making the time to slow down is a constant challenge. Meditation and yoga can help, but where can you find time to work them in? And the more pressure you put on yourself, the harder it is to let your mind rest.
big deal
If this were easy, we’d all get enough rest, but according to the CDC almost a third of us are sleep deprived (defined as less than 7 hours per 24-hour period). This is especially true in the eastern and southeastern United States. In my particular state, the lowest rates of sleep seem to fall in the poorest counties.

Most of us think that we can catch up by sleeping late on a Saturday morning here and there. If we still feel exhausted, we assume there must be a different problem. This can mean we continue to exhaust ourselves.

It can take weeks to fully recover from sleep deprivation. Adding an hour or two per night over a longer period of time will give you the most benefit and if you can sustain the extra hours, prevent the problem from recurring.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t times you just need to shut things down. If you have reached a point at which you cannot function well, it is time to take more drastic action. Pretend you have a 24 or 48-hour virus. Go to bed and don’t do anything you would put aside if you really had that virus. Giving yourself permission to do this will help quiet your mind and put it in sync with your intention of resting.

Temperature, bed quality, light, and noise can all affect sleep quality. I learned long before smartphones existed that a digital clock with a red display disturbed my sleep. I had to go back to a clock with a face with hands. Now I move the laptop out of the room because the pulsing sleep indicator is disruptive.

Alcohol will give the illusion that it helps you sleep because you may fall asleep more easily, but it can interfere with REM sleep resulting in daytime sleepiness and performance impairment. I’ve heard plenty of self-diagnosed insomniacs complain about their lack of sleep while touting alcohol use as the solution to the problem. They don’t seem to realize that they’re still complaining about insomnia. If alcohol were fixing the problem, wouldn’t that complaint be gone?

I fall asleep easily and usually sleep well, but during times of extreme stress, I require additional hours of rest. I can’t get by with 6 or 7 hours for two nights followed by 8 for two nights. I need a full 8 – 9 hours each night and maybe a nap or two on the weekend. I don’t know whether my need is more physical, mental, or emotional, but I know it’s important to shift all systems into neutral in order to feel restored.

The irony is that I most need more rest when I least feel I can afford the time. Nonetheless, I am learning to tell myself the minute I feel I have to push myself, “You may need a nap!” 

https://www.livescience.com/52592-spooky-effects-sleep-deprivation.html

https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/

https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/data_statistics.html

https://hbr.org/2006/10/sleep-deficit-the-performance-killer

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-2/101-109.htm

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/wrap-it-up/

April 17, 2018

Think Going Gluten-Free is Hard – Visualization Can Help

Think going gluten-free is hard – visualization can help! In spite of increased awareness and availability of gluten-free foods, many of us still find the idea of remaining totally gluten-free intimidating. We just can’t imagine actually having to walk past every croissant displayed in a bakery case in France. We find the thought of giving up our grandmother’s cherry pie with its perfectly flaky pie crust unfathomable. We don’t know what we’ll grab when we’re too hungry and dinner won’t be ready for an hour. Rethinking our habitual lunch spot feels like we’re losing our best friend.

Our mind may tell us there’s plenty of information available and the process won’t be difficult, but it feels monumentally hard. We just can’t see ourselves as bread free, pasta free, doughnut free, cake free, or fried chicken free for a week, much less a lifetime. When you think about it, if we can’t “see” it, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to accomplish it. In fact, if we can’t see it, we may not even be able to consistently take that first step toward making it happen. We’ll stick with what we can see in our mind’s eye.
visualize
When I was learning to slalom waterski, I kept falling at the same spot in the wake in the same way over and over again. I remember someone telling me the problem was that I’d learned to fall. Huh? But it was true. When I thought about crossing the wake, what I saw in my mind’s eye was me falling. I didn’t fear it, I just knew it would happen. I had learned to fall.

If we don’t change what we envision, we will subconsciously stick with what we’ve learned. We’re bad at math. We are weak. We are unreliable. We can’t cook. We’ll never amount to anything. We’re lazy. Are we? Do we have to be or have we adopted someone else’s vision of us? Can we see ourselves getting a tutor and excelling at math, lifting weights and becoming strong, only saying yes when we know we can deliver, practicing until cooking seems easy, excelling in life, or working energetically? Changing how we view ourselves can facilitate us changing everything!

Coaches know that visualization can improve athletic performance. In addition to time on the court, they may have a player envision him/herself making free throw after free throw. Scientific studies have shown that visualization does, in fact, improve athletic and academic performance. Pilots-in-training are encouraged to chair fly their airplanes, or, in other words, to visualize themselves flying. Life coaches may incorporate visualization to help a client conquer an obstacle.

When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. If you can see yourself doing something, it’s no big deal to do it. It just feels natural. On the other hand, if you can’t see yourself doing something, it’s a challenge to make the first step toward getting started.

The type of visualization I’m describing isn’t daydreaming. It’s an engaged practice directed to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle and it can be practiced. For instance, let’s say my greatest difficulty going gluten-free is how I will explain to my elderly aunt that I can’t eat her beef stroganoff. I will create images of myself in which I am brave, strong, and kind when communicating this to her. I imagine myself engaging in some activity that comforts me before and after the communication. Obviously, I can’t control her response, so my visualization focuses on me practicing self-care while addressing my obstacle.

This can go further. I can mentally rehearse several possible responses to my aunt’s imagined reactions. In other words, I can visualize many options I can employ to keep myself feeling centered, supported, and strong. I can also give myself permission to remove myself from the communication if my aunt becomes hysterical, abusive, or unkind. Imagining the many options I have and seeing myself feeling okay no matter how she responds builds my emotional muscles in advance.

With better developed emotional muscles and a mental picture of my many options, I can go into an uncomfortable conversation feeling strong and prepared. Whatever the response, I am prepared to see myself as a person who deserves to be healthy. Remaining gluten-free is critical to my health, so I will remain gluten-free and I will be kind to those who don’t understand because they cannot make me feel bad about treating myself well.

Perhaps your greatest obstacle is financial. It is true that much of the gluten-free convenience food available is more expensive. Gluten-free flours are also more expensive than wheat flour. You can visualize yourself feeling satisfied and happy eating meat, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, fruit, rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, cornbread, corn tortillas, and homemade trail mix. As you imagine roasted chicken, chicken enchiladas, grilled chicken breasts, beef stew, beef roast, grilled steak, pork chops & rice, pork tenderloin, grilled tilapia, fresh green beans with new potatoes, black beans & rice, grapes, peaches, pears, bananas, baked sweet potatoes, sautéed squash & onions, steamed carrots or broccoli, you’ll soon recognize the options are plentiful even on a budget.

Visualizing will also make it easier to develop a pantry plan for your family, meal plans for busy weeks, travel plans so that you always have good gluten-free options, and plans for attending parties or events. As you see yourself successfully navigating these areas, a gluten-free lifestyle will seem less daunting.

Being able to see what can be rather than what will no longer be mitigates the feeling of loss we all experience when we give up something familiar. Visualizing yourself as the pain free, energetic self you used to be can help motivate you to stick with a gluten-free path in order to heal. Seeing yourself enjoying life without a foggy brain, constant itching, tummy pain and discomfort, weakness and fatigue, or achy muscles is great motivation for giving the lifestyle a try.

Can you be successful in maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle to be healthy? Yes, you can! I can see it now!

And when you struggle, we’re always here to help: support@cooking2thrive.com.

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8b20/b4ff5ccdb04dee8f8928f8b7fc6ea5c9772f.pdf

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2190/X9BA-KJ68-07AN-QMJ8

http://www.marcandangel.com/2015/01/18/4-unconventional-steps-extremely-successful-people-take-in-life/#more-800

March 27, 2018

What’s Worth Preserving?

In the kitchen and in life it’s important to consider what’s worth preserving. After recovering from a severe stomach virus in December, my system has been slowly readjusting to raw vegetables and meat proteins. I’ve cooked a number of dishes that I ultimately couldn’t tolerate. I feel a bit wasteful throwing those away, so I’m constantly faced with a decision about what’s worth preserving.
jars
I don’t have a canner, so preserving food is primarily limited to freezing. I have to confess that I’m really bad at freezing anything other than baked goods. Actually, I’m really bad at remembering to thaw the food.

Of course I open my freezer every day. I get ice out of the ice maker. I grab a handful of almonds I store there. I sometimes grab flour out of it to bake. But those things can be used immediately. A muffin can be microwaved for a few seconds. On the other hand, a roast, Cornish hen, or chicken thighs take time to thaw. That’s where the problem comes in.

I plan when I’m creating or testing recipes. When I’m cooking for myself, I fly by the seat of my pants most of the time. Thawing and last minute cooking don’t mesh well. And I haven’t been pleased with the results I get from microwave thawing. Knowing myself as I do, I work around this weakness by rarely preserving in the freezer.
beef
Instead, I ask the following questions when I’m deciding what to keep:

How much longer will it last?
What I can’t tolerate today, I may be able to in 3 or 4 days. If it will last 3 or 4 days it still has usefulness and I will keep it.

Can I freeze it, then give it away?
My sister falls on the opposite end of the freezing spectrum. It’s her favorite way to store food. Sometimes it makes sense for me to freeze something, then give it to her.

If I cook it, will I eat it?
The answer to this question may lead me to cook the food, but give it away. If I have a friend who is overly busy or has been ill, I can do us both a favor by preparing the food then delivering it to them.

Can I donate it?
A local food bank or food closet may be able to accept fresh food. We have a new local organization that only serves veterans and disseminates quickly so perishables are acceptable. Churches may also be able to use the food to feed members of a congregation.

Should I throw it away?
Sometimes throwing something away is the best decision. If you were raised to conserve, reduce, reuse, and recycle, this may be a difficult concept to absorb.

When I was small, we had very little money. I don’t like wastefulness. It makes me feel anxious and insecure. What’s gone can’t be gotten back and I internalized the idea that I might not be able to afford to replace it. Most of the time, this serves to make me more efficient and less wasteful, but it can also cause me to want to hold onto too many things.

This is the point at which questions about food preservation begin to intersect with questions about what’s worth preserving in life. Should I hold onto every piece of furniture or knick-knack that I remember from my grandmother’s house? Should I keep every blurry photo of my family? Should I hang onto grudges against my aunts and uncles that originated before I was born?

Our experiences and families leave a legacy often left unexamined. But in life it’s valuable to ask what’s worth preserving. Sometimes what we retain is limiting us from having the life we desire. We accept a version of reality that may not have to apply.

When deciding what’s worth preserving in life, I often begin a question with – Can I know for sure that…

Can I know for sure that I won’t have funds to replace my mom’s dresser that has outlived its usefulness?

Can I know for sure I’ll forget the warm feeling I had in my grandmother’s kitchen if I get rid of her cookie jar?

Can I know for sure I won’t see that same smile on my cousin’s face in a different photo that’s not blurry?

Can I know for sure that Uncle John is as rotten as my dad said if I don’t get to know him myself?

Can I know for sure that I won’t find love again if I let go of this relationship that makes me feel really bad about myself?

Can I know for sure that I won’t get that dream job even though I’m only 80% qualified? Should I just stick here where I’m miserable, but secure?

If I can’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that something is true, then I turn the question around and ask – Is it possible that…

Is it possible that I will find a dresser that’s cherry like my bed instead of a mismatched maple one with a drawer that sticks?

Is it possible that the smell of peanut butter cookies baking in my oven will remind me of the warm feeling I had in my grandmother’s kitchen?

Is it possible that I have 15 pictures of my cousin’s smile in the 5 boxes of photos I haven’t organized because there’s so many to go through?

Is it possible that Uncle John tried to apologize to my dad, but my dad wouldn’t listen and he’d actually love to have a relationship with me and my sister?

Is it possible that I don’t believe I deserve to feel good about myself in a relationship?

Is it possible that a fear of being inadequate is standing between me and the job I want?

If I can’t know for sure and it’s possible that exactly the opposite is true, what am I preventing by holding onto my current belief? Am I cluttering my house with so much stuff that has to be cleaned that I don’t have time to enjoy my family? Am I cluttering my collections with so many extraneous things that the best aren’t easily visible? Am I missing out on a positive, supportive relationship because of someone else’s beef? Am I missing out on a loving partnership that makes me feel I am being my best because I keep trying to make a bad one work? Am I missing out on my dream job by letting doubt keep me from applying?

It could be that some of the things I’m holding on to are costing me dearly. By asking a question and then turning that question around, I can quickly identify things in my life that are not worth preserving. Sometimes they seem so obvious, I wonder how I could have been so blind.

One thing I know to let go of is guilt; another is shame. I will make mistakes. I will make decisions of which I’m ashamed. I will fail. I can hold onto guilt, shame, and failure and in the process lose my best self or I can let them go in order to learn, improve, and shine in my life. I choose to let them go. Some things just aren’t worth preserving!