You should be doing these things right now!

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Hello, friends! Tis the season to be… Stressed out, frantically busy, exhausted, out of gas, and definitely no time to recharge the batteries. I find this time of year to be the most difficult. I feel stressed because I want to get the perfect gifts for my loved ones that reflects how much I love them, frantically busy as I decorate the house, buy the gifts, wrap them, bake cookies, plan, shop for and make the Christmas Eve meal, spend meaningful time with the kids, go out of town to visit family, and all the holiday obligations. This year it’s even more difficult because we are going through renovations on our new house. Life in the “Reno Zone” is difficult and stressful, which adds to the holiday burnout. 

My college student readers are going through similar experiences with studying for finals, writing papers, completing projects, giving presentations and finishing their semesters strong. My conclusion is that we are all STRESSED OUT these days. 

My goal with this post is to help give you ideas about how to de-stress and take care of yourself during timeframes when you have precious little time in which to do this. You can do little things that don’t take long, but will help you recharge your batteries and give you the energy to finish this year strong. I’ve got so many ideas for you that I will split it into two posts. Here we go!

  

  
 1. Take a replenishing salt bath– my new passion is bathing. There is nothing more luxurious than laying in the bathtub with the lights dim and soothing music playing. Here’s a way to take it up a notch, add bath salts, in particular pink Himalayan sea salts. Salt baths have been utilized for thousands of years as a way to detoxify the body, and salt in the bath actually ADDS moisture to your skin. Himalayan salts are also high in minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, calcium and chloride which can be absorbed while in the salt bath. If buying pink Himalayan salt and adding it to your bath seems like too much work, there are ready made products out there that do the work for you. One product I like in particular is from a company called Me! Bath. They have “bath ice creams” that are all natural and contain oils, minerals, fragrances and salt, so you just have to drop one into your bath tub and get in for a nice, relaxing soak. Ahhhhh!

  
2. Glass of wine– This one works well in combination with number one, because having a glass of wine while soaking in the bath makes it even better. Wine (in moderation) is one of the healthiest ways to wind down after a long day. It contains potent antioxidants that are heart healthy and protect from many heinous diseases. Champagne is getting good press these days because it contains polyphenols that help lower blood pressure, natural trace elements that help boost your mood, and at 78 calories per 4 ounce pour it’s one of the least caloric alcoholic drinks in which you can indulge- in moderation of course. 

  
3. Listen to your favorite music– again works well in combination with the first two items on the list. Music helps you focus because it causes changes to the brain that help with attention and storing events into memory, makes you feel more cheerful due to the release of dopamine caused by listening to certain songs, and can calm you down by listening to soothing music during stressful events due to decreased cortisol levels . I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stressed and listened to one of my favorite playlists on my iPod which cheered me up immediately. Music can also rev you up and give you the energy you need to complete a challenging paper or project, because listening to up tempo music actually helps you use oxygen more efficiently, which can also get you through a tough workout as well. 

 LOL, Danielle took this picture of me while I was sleeping and cuddling with my Chewbacca! 
4. Cuddling with loved ones, furry and non– I’ve written about this in a previous post but think it bares repeating, physical touch, in particular hugging, is one of the best things we can do for good health. When you hug a loved one your body releases oxytocin, which is a neuropeptide which makes us feel warm and fuzzy inside. It promotes feelings of devotion, trust and bonding. Hugs can also lower blood pressure. This happens because sensory receptors on the skin trigger the vagus nerve which is responsible for lowering blood pressure among other things. Hugs can be a potent destresser because when we hug we immediately reduce the amount of stress hormone cortisol produced in our bodies, which releases tension and sends calming messages to the brain. There is nothing more soothing to me than cuddling up with my pups and loved ones. Truly one of the best things in life!

 This is a picture I took at my local nail salon that serves wine while getting a manicure or pedicure. That’s a win-win to me! 
These are some of my favorite ways to recharge during busy times. What are yours? Living a calm, stress free life is a goal I’m always striving for, it will help you live longer and healthier too. So please my friends, luxuriate in the bath, drink a glass of wine or champagne, listen to music and hug your loved ones. Doing these things will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 

A Few of my Favorite Things!

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YEP!

YEP!

In my last post, I mentioned that I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. So often, it seems a resolution is yet another thing on a much too long to do list, and when it is not followed through with, it leads to a sense of sadness and failure. Definitely not the way to go into a new year! Now that’s not to say that I don’t advocate eating healthily and exercising regularly, if you’ve read my past blog posts you know I am all about that. It’s just more about being good to myself, and setting aside regular time for ME! I’m definitely not very good at that. Are there any others out there who are the same? It seems I’m so good at being there for others, but not so good about that for myself. With that in mind I am trying to be better about doing things just for me, and I mentioned a few things on my list of things I love to do in my last post, “New Year’s resolution? Nah, just be good to you!”. Listening to music, reading my Kindle, and taking a luxurious bath were some of them, but there’s more, my friends, and I want to share some more with you now.

Ashes with my Jac!

Ashes with my Jac!

1. Spending spiritual time- In past posts, I have discussed my time spent each morning in meditation. I try to do that every morning without fail and most days I achieve that- at least 5-10 minutes worth. That’s only part of my spiritual time though. My favorite way to deepen my faith is by attending church services at my parish, Holy Spirit Geist (HSG).

Jac took this pic of our church and I think it's awesome!

Jac took this pic of our church and I think it’s awesome!

It is a young, vibrant parish and has rejuvenated my faith. I especially like to attend with my daughters, but that isn’t always possible these days since they’re attending church in their college town now. Still, they come back to go to church with me as often as they can, because they find the atmosphere at HSG as uplifting and inspiring as I do. I especially love the Sunday 5 pm mass, because they have a band and they play contemporary Christian music which I really like. My advice would be that no matter what beliefs you have, spend time with other people who believe similarly because it really helps me feel in communion with humanity and with a higher power too.

Ashes with Danz!

Ashes with Danz!

Another thing that uplifts me is to pray a daily rosary. For those of you who aren’t Catholic, the rosary is a series of prayers to Mary. We do not WORSHIP Mary, which is a popular misconception about Catholics, we only worship God but we do hold Mary in reverence as the mother of God. We pray the rosary for her to intercede for us to God on our behalf. I use a rosary made of Swarovski crystals that my Mama gave me, and it gives me such a loving feeling to use this gorgeous rosary given to me by MY beloved Mom to pray to Jesus’s beloved Mom!

That perfectly sums up my feelings about praying the rosary!

That perfectly sums up my feelings about praying the rosary!

Anyway, I began praying a daily rosary about 10 years ago and I prayed it with my daughters on the way to school. It’s a rhythmic series of prayers (1 Our Father and 10 Hail Mary’s followed by a Glory Be and a Fatima prayer- 5 times), and each day corresponds to a different set of mysteries about Jesus. I truly love to pray my rosary, and now I usually do it as I first awaken and am laying in bed trying to wake my brain up. Praying the rosary brings me so much comfort and peace. There have been MANY times in which I awaken in the middle of the night, and all my fears and concerns keep me from going back to sleep. I pray my rosary, and before I know it I’m calm and comforted back to sleep. I also say my prayers every day. I used to pray with my girls, and now I pray by myself in the morning after my daily rosary. I pray for just about everyone I can think of, all my family members, friends, and all of the sick and suffering I know about. It’s my way of helping those I love, and it makes me feel really good about myself.

Wine and a good meal!

Wine and a good meal!

2. A good meal and glass of wine- As you know if you’ve read my past posts, I LOVE a good meal accompanied by a nice glass of wine. I love to make the meals usually, however I’m a sucker for a delicious dinner that someone else has made. Since I cook so much, it is the ultimate luxury to have someone else cook for me, or to go out for a nice meal. Now, I said go out for a nice meal, not fast food which I in no way consider a nice meal. However, it doesn’t have to be FANCY to be a nice meal. I also love Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, Sushi, etc, etc, etc which are more simple meals. The only requirement is that the food HAS to be delicious! One of my favorite meals in Indianapolis is at a Vietnamese restaurant called Sandra’s Rice and Noodles. My roommate from college, Terri, took me to this restaurant the first time, though now I’ve been there many times. Their Pho is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, granted everything there is wonderful and I’ve never ordered anything I haven’t loved! It’s a very simple restaurant in which you can enjoy the most amazing meals! Eating is one of my greatest pleasures and even though I eat mostly healthy food I find that I savor and enjoy my food more now than I did when I ate less healthily. I go more for flavor and quality rather than quantity, which means that I eat less than I did and I enjoy it more. That’s a win-win!

Also, the wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious, and I’ve had many great $10 bottles of wine that I’ve really savored. One of my favorite $10 bottles of wine is Kris Pinot Grigio and if you like Pinot Grigio I think you’ll enjoy this brand. Plus you can’t beat the price!

My favorite wine!

My favorite wine!

My favorite Pinot Grigio however is Santa Margherita which my stepmom introduced me to. It’s more like $22 for a bottle so I don’t drink it every day, but when I do I’m in heaven! It is truly a fine glass of wine. And remember, when you’re eating or drinking the really good stuff a little bit goes a long way, so a glass or two is all you need to satisfy.

So these are some of my favorite things- my church Holy Spirit Geist, my Swarovski crystal rosary beads given to me by my mom, praying my daily rosary, a delicious meal like I’ve had at Sandra’s Rice and Noodles, and a good glass of wine like Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. These are things that give me comfort and help me be good to myself. I’ve got more for you so tune in for my next post to see what else I have. I hope you are good to yourself today. Doing so will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Good night’s sleep? Don’t sell it cheap!

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Ahhhhhh, for an uninterrupted night of sleep!!

Ahhhhhh, for an uninterrupted night of sleep!!

I’ve been experiencing a few sleepless nights lately. You know those nights when you lie wide awake from 3 to 5 am, and then awaken feeling pretty tired in the morning? Those kinds of nights. Along with feeling tired the next day, I’ve also noticed a loss of concentration which is making the writing of this post much more difficult! So, I started thinking about the importance of a good night’s sleep and what I could do to help my readers (and myself) sleep better at night. This is what I came up with and I hope it helps you, and me!

According to a British study on Health.com, people who are sleep deprived, which is sleeping 5 hours or less per night, are at higher risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues, as well as raising the risk for diabetes, alcoholism, depression, obesity and car accidents. And a study at the University of California-Berkeley determined that to be sleep deprived affects the area of your brain that controls your moods and concentration. I say true dat to that!

The question I wonder is why do we have trouble sleeping from time to time? There are numerous factors that affect ability to sleep. Now I know my college students would agree to the number one factor affecting sleep which is STRESS. If you’ve got a big presentation or test the next day, sleep might be difficult for you that night. Another thing that can disrupt sleep is extreme temperature fluctuations and environmental noise. You know how you can be sleeping and then the room becomes uncomfortably warm or cold and you can’t sleep? I’ve definitely experienced that in my life. Or, you’re sleeping in a hotel room with a noisy air conditioning system and once you awaken you can’t get back to sleep? Yep, that’s happened to me too. Changing work schedule or jet lag can also disrupt your sleep. An additional reason, and the one I think affecting me right now, is hormonal changes due to PMS, menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause (that’s my issue). Yuck!

Oh to be able to sleep like my children, and dogs!

Oh to be able to sleep like my children, and dogs!

So what can you do about this? First, sleep experts recommend establishing a consistent bedtime routine. This is one of the most important factors in sleeping well. That means taking a warm bath before bed, or doing yoga or meditation too. Anything that says to your brain, “relax and get ready for bed” is key here. The next thing is to try to go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time in the morning. This includes weekends too, which isn’t difficult for me because I have my “furry alarm clocks” to awaken me between 7:00-7:30 every morning regardless of the day. Another key factor is to get enough exercise during the day. The more physically active you are, the better you’ll sleep because of the energy you’ve expended. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime or it could keep you awake at night.

The next key to a good night’s sleep is to cut back on the caffeine, especially in the evening. I can’t drink coffee after dinner or it will keep me awake at night. Definitely not what I want! Limiting alcohol intake can help you sleep better at night too, did you hear that college students? 🙂 Oh and don’t watch tv or do your work on your bed, the bed should be only for sleeping and other relaxing activities. I like to read a “just for fun” book on my kindle to fall asleep, that’s not the time for a weighty political biography. Avoid big meals late in the evening because that can also disrupt your sleep.

The experts say that if you can’t fall asleep within thirty minutes of getting into bed, leave your bed and go do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. Then go back to bed instead of lying there tossing and turning half the night. Another tip is to do what my dad does and get a “white noise” device to block out environmental noises that can disrupt sleep. Here’s another great tip, one way to prevent insomnia is to TAKE A NAP! Yes, I know that doesn’t seem to make sense, especially to my sister, but as I said in my previous post “Nap your way to success”, a short (10 to 20 minutes) nap lying down in a darkened room can help you sleep better at night. I’m definitely going to be doing that this afternoon! Spending time outside is another way to sleep better at night, because exposing yourself to natural light sets your natural rhythms which helps you sleep.

Jac taking a selfie with a sleeping Danielle!

Jac taking a selfie with a sleeping Danielle!

Also, dim the lights for up to an hour before you go to sleep at night. We do this while we are watching tv in the family room before we go to bed. It definitely helps us relax. Last, don’t obsess about not being able to sleep. Remember I said that the biggest reason for insomnia is stress, and the more we worry about falling asleep the more it stresses us so we have trouble falling asleep because of it.

There are natural sleep remedies that I feel are very helpful. Valerian is an herb that has a natural sedative effect and can be found in standardized extracts in health food stores. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the wake/sleep cycle and other biorhythms. It can also be found at health food stores (and in my refrigerator!). It really helps to restore sleep patterns. Supplements that can be helpful are magnesium and calcium which are sleep boosters, especially when taken together. I take a supplement called Cal Mag + by American Biologics, which contains calcium, magnesium and other helpful minerals. I take two before bed, which helps with sleep. L-theanine is an amino acid that comes from green tea and helps keep you calmly alert during the day and more deeply asleep at night. Green tea doesn’t contain enough to boost REM cycles, you need to take a supplement that contains PURE L-theanine and follow the directions on the bottle. I’ve said it before, PLEASE DON’T BUY YOUR SUPPLEMENTS AT A GROCERY STORE OR BIG BOX STORE. Only purchase from a health food store or REPUTABLE pharmacy. Also, aromatherapy can be helpful for sleep and calm, especially lavender. Spritz REAL lavender spray on your pillow before bed, or purchase a lavender filled pillow.

So that’s how to have a good, healthy night’s sleep. I’m going to practice what I’m preaching starting today to make sure my sleep improves. If you’ve got a healthy sleep tip, please feel free to share it with me, or if you try some of mine, let me know if it helps you to sleep better. When you’re well rested it will help you to live a life of vitality- like Valerie!