Do it now, part deux!

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(Tree is decorated, that’s about it!)

Is anyone less stressed this week? I hope you are, but I am honestly just as stressed this week as I was the last time I posted. I’m still buying some last minute gifts, nothing is wrapped, I haven’t baked anything, and many plans are still up in the air for the holidays. All of this makes me crazier than usual. Last post I wrote about some things you can do to relieve stress like taking a relaxing bath, listening to music, drinking a glass of wine and cuddling with a loved one. I’ve got a few more stress relievers for you, and I sincerely hope they help you (and me!) through this last push before Christmas.

  (Post walk exhaustion!) 

1. Take a walk- This sounds so obvious and I’ve discussed many times in past posts how good for you walking is, but more so when you’re stressed. Lately I haven’t had time to walk my dogs as regularly as I usually do, and we are all suffering for the absence of our outdoor time. The last few days I’ve forced our walk time back in and I feel better, and I’m sure my dogs do too. The walks have been shorter than they used to be, 15 minutes versus 30, but it’s better than nothing for all of us, and it makes me feel better mentally that I took the time to do it so that’s a double bonus! 

  
(Great, quick meditations in a booklet our church provides for us each Advent season. Perfect for a fast bit of morning prayer and reflection.)

2. Prayer time/meditation time/quiet time- whatever you call it, this is something really important to me, and unfortunately something that is so tempting to cut out when time gets tight. These last few days I’ve made sure I put my prayer time back on my morning agenda, and I’ve felt a lot better because of it. I won’t be excluding it in the future. 

  
3. Cry- this seems strange to be included and it’s not something I’m very good at, but there’s something so cathartic about a good cry. I don’t cry very often at all but when I do it makes me feel better. Here’s why, emotional tears, you know the kind you produce when sad (or happy), have ACTH in them which is known to be present in the body during times of increased stress. ACTH is present in our tears because our tears help wash away some of it, and that’s why we feel less stressed after we cry. Pretty cool, huh?!! I am going to work on crying more often than once a decade and see if it helps!

  
(Some of my favorite people to chat with, home for Christmas!)

4. Talking/venting- this one is very helpful for me. Everything starts to build up and sometime the only thing that makes me feel better is to talk/ vent (rant!) to a caring person in my life, usually my sister, my mom, my roommate from college or my daughters. I am BLESSED to have these loving ladies to listen and care about me. Having an emotional connection with someone is critical for our psychological wellbeing. In fact, studies have shown that people with close friends are less likely to commit suicide, more likely to survive cancer, have lower heart disease risk and actually live longer than people with few or no close friends. When women are stressed they produce oxytocin which causes us to “tend and befriend”, this actually encourages us to turn to our friends, and then the act of chatting causes us to produce even more oxytocin, which in turn calms us. Wow that’s complicated but I really like it!

So there you have it! Four more ways to reduce your stress, not just during the holiday season but at any stressful times in your life, which are numerous, aren’t they?!! I wish all of you a stress-less Christmas and worry free new year. Walking, praying, crying and venting 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!

 

 

 

The times they are a changing!

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Hi Vitality with Valerie readers! This will be slightly different than my other posts because I’m going through a time of transition in my life. My youngest daughter is graduating from high school this weekend and I’m hosting her graduation open house. This is a very challenging time for me because I am extremely close to both of my daughters, and when they leave for college this August it will be the first time that I will have neither of my daughters at home with me in 20 years! I define myself primarily as Mom and to have both of my little birdies leave the nest is emotional for me.

My babies many years ago!

My babies many years ago!

The reason I’m posting about this is that we all go through times of transition and change in our lives, and this can be very difficult and stressful. Stress is debilitating for us physiologically. Studies have shown that stress can weaken your immune system, cause lack of sleep, lead to inflammation in your body (which can cause things like migraines and rheumatoid arthritis), can lead to substance abuse, weight gain, infertility, and gastrointestinal issues. Yuck! Who wants any of that?!

Well, the good thing is that we can counteract the effects of stress with some simple steps. This week has been very hectic and busy for me with party planning and helping my daughter with everything she needs to get through the graduation. At times I have felt very stressed and anxious, however I have utilized some important steps to overcome the stress and anxiety.

1. Down time- When I’m stressed my morning meditation time is more important than ever, even though sometimes I am tempted to skip it and use the 30 minutes to do something else that needs to be done. However, when I’m stressed that is when I need my calm, peaceful time even more so I make sure to fit it in, even if it’s only 5 minutes. As I’ve said before, whatever brings you a sense of peace and tranquility is essential to mental and physical wellbeing, so make sure you do that especially when stressed.

2. Ask for help- This is the most difficult one for me. I have a hard time asking for help and I suspect many of you feel the same way. It’s important to ask your partner, children, family members, and friends for help so that you don’t have to do everything yourself. I’ve done that this week and I have found that everyone is more than willing to help when I’ve asked them.

3. Exercise- This is another critically important component to relieving stress. Regular exercise is crucial in stress reduction among other benefits. Again, when I’m busy I am tempted to skip my exercise time in order to squeeze in other things. However, those to do list items will always be there and if I exercise I’ll feel better about tackling them. I usually exercise for 45-50 minutes per day, but this week since I’ve been so busy I have only gotten in 30 minutes, and one day I just walked my dogs for 20 minutes. I am fine with that because I know when things slow down a little I will go back to my regular workout time, and I’m proud of myself for getting a workout in when I have so much to do.

4. Rest- When I’m stressed I make sure to get enough sleep. I’ve been awakening earlier this week, around 5:30 or 6 am which is horrendously early but my brain starts working and I can’t sleep anymore. I’ve countered that by falling asleep a little earlier, around 10, because I need at least 7 hours of sleep or I’m not fit to be around! I feel like I have enough energy to get through the day so this is working for me.

My babies all grown up, where does the time go?!

My babies all grown up, where does the time go?!

Wish me luck in getting through this weekend and the transition time ahead of me this summer! If you have any other tips for dealing with stress that work for you, please feel free to post them here. Again, thank you for reading this, and good luck with your stressful situations!

Valerie