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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Take a Breath: Relaxation Techniques for Troubled Times

GettyImages-1167560354Seriously. Stop and take a breath. Don’t judge your technique, just breathe in and out. Failure to do both in and out will likely result in you fainting, and the ERs and urgent care centers have enough to do without you coming in with a cut forehead requiring stitches.

Take 5: A Relaxation Exercise

Hold your left hand palm facing up with your fingers slightly spread apart. Place the tip of the index finger of your other hand at the base of the left palm in the slot between the fat pads of the thumb and little finger.

To begin this short exercise, exhale; then as you inhale, let your index finger trace the length of your thumb. When you reach the tip of your thumb, retrace the length of your thumb as you exhale until you return to your starting point. Repeat this exercise for each finger.

If you chose to, you can reverse hand positions and repeat the exercise with your left index finger tracing the fingers of your right hand.

This exercise is short but a powerful way to calm down the fight/flight nerves and bring back physical and mental balance.

Breathwork

There hundreds of breathing techniques to explore and thousands of books written on the subject, going into great detail about what happens when you focus on your breath. I believe it is important and should be explored by anyone who wants to improve their health and wellness. That depth is well beyond the intent of this blog. However, here are some breathing patterns to try.

  • Box breathing: Inhale for a 4-count, hold for a 4-count, exhale for a 4-count, hold for a 4-count, repeat. This technique is used by the military to calm soldiers before shooting drills and live action.
  • 4 In, 6 Out: No holds, just simple in/out with a slightly longer exhale.
  • 4 In, 6 Hold, and 7 Exhale: This is the beginning of longer holds and exhales.
  • Focus breathing: Simply watch and follow the breath as it moves in and out. No judgment; just follow. This is the foundation of basic meditation practices.

Finding Balance

These are very stressful times for everyone. It’s like the world is standing thigh-deep in snow in the direct path of a sudden, fast-moving avalanche. With no point of reference, we don’t know if we are at the beginning, middle, or end. Use these techniques to find your own “life jacket,” a complement to the exercise ideas and nutritional information that NIFS provides. I hope it helps you find your breath, tone down the negative energy, broaden your perspective for your own mental and physical health, and perhaps help others as we go through together.

Your inner peace is your personal power. Therefore,

Peace and Power,
Rick

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This blog was written by Rick Huse, NIFS Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: relaxation stress relief mental health well-being lifetime wellness breathwork breathing exercises

Self-Care for Women: Six Elements of Well-Being

GettyImages-1159495308There seems to be an expectation that women are supposed to do it all and not complain. That women are supposed to be wives and mothers, work full time, juggle friendships, have a social life, have time for themselves, so on. Society is ever changing, and we are supposed to keep up with it. Let’s rewind some years ago where most women stayed at home with their children, and taking care of their household was their only responsibility.

I will be the first to tell you that I have lived through both scenarios. I have been a stay-at-home mom and I have been a working-full-time mom. Neither comes without difficulties, but both come with such reward.

As women, the biggest and most important healthy relationship we can have is with ourselves. If we are not taking care of ourselves, it becomes incredibly difficult for us to take care of others. Can we do it? Of course! But at some point, we have to stop and ask ourselves, “At what price is it worth sacrificing our mental and physical health?”

The goal of this blog isn’t to sit here and say that you shouldn’t be a stay-at-home mom, you shouldn’t be a full-time working mom, or you shouldn’t be the only one to do everything. I understand that every woman’s situation and life is different and there is no one-size-fits-all. The goal of this blog is to encourage, uplift, and provide some new tools for you.

The Six Elements of Well-Being

While studying my recent certification with Girls Gone Strong, I came across the Six Elements of Well-Being, which inspired me to write this blog. I am a firm believer that taking care of your mental health serves a higher purpose than anything else.

Let’s dive into these elements as well as a call to action!

Positive Emotions

Emotions are “action blueprints” that tell us how to react and behave in situations. It’s important to understand that although our emotions might be good and bad, all emotions we feel are essential. As women we tend to focus more on what is “wrong” with our lives and even our bodies instead of focusing on what is right. Positive emotions don’t stick around as long as negative emotions. It’s important for us to fill our bank with positive affirmations by practicing them often.

Action: Record one thing you are grateful for each day.

Engagement (Flow)

Being “in the zone” is a term that a lot of us can relate to. You become fully engaged in the task at hand. Time slows down or comes to a stop, and nothing can pull you away from the flow of what you’re doing. Staying engaged is what keeps us going. Think about what you are naturally good at; what you do to build a routine around that is going to be fulfilling. “Health is about abundance—seeking out things that make us feel ‘fuller’ as human beings.”

Action: Find your favorite hobby or hobbies and carve out time to do them.

Relationships

Remember earlier when I stated that the most important healthy relationship we can be in is the one with ourselves? Well, let’s dive into that a little more.

As humans we are social beings and we rely on relationships. As women we give care or reach out to others as a way of lowering our stress levels. By being in strong, safe, and secure relationships, we allow ourselves to be healthier in all ways, which provides us the confidence we need to meet life challenges.

Action: Write a positive letter to yourself.

Meaning and Purpose

I’m sorry to tell you, but I don’t have the answer to the meaning of life. But I can say that having meaning in life means being connected to something greater than ourselves. Meaning and purpose can come from anywhere, and having meaning is crucial for our health and well-being.

Action: Write a list of what makes you happy and fulfilled.

Achievement

We need goals!

Let me say that louder.

WE NEED GOALS!!

Having long and short-term goals helps us stay connected to what we are pursuing in our lives. Having goals is an important aspect for our well-being and what helps bring satisfaction to our lives.

Action: Write a self-care goal and do it!

Resilience

Psychological resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, or other sources of stress. Some people are naturally resilient, and others are not and that’s okay. Positivity and resilience are skills that you can learn over time by cultivating them.

Action: Write what you feel grateful/hopeful for.

Set Yourself Up for Success

These six elements aren’t the answer to the world’s problems. But they are tools that can help you concentrate on your own well-being so that you can set yourself up for success in all areas of your life.

Take care and appreciate yourself, ladies!

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, CPT, Weight Loss Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: goals women emotional mental health well-being self-care relationships resilience physical health

7 Things You Can Do to Avoid Cabin Fever

GettyImages-1185186125It goes without saying; we’re living through some pretty odd times. With the onset of COVID-19, many of our lives have been flipped on their heads. For some, there has been less structure, and maybe a little more downtime, and that has the potential to make even the sanest of them all go a little stir-crazy.

Here are a few things that you can do today to help break the monotony (or break that Netflix binge) and add some flavor to your day.

Learn to play a new card or board game.

Remember that time your friends from Michigan asked if you wanted to play Euchre, and you responded with a shrug and said, “I’ve never played, can you teach me?” But they were too competitive to have the patience to do so? Is this oddly specific? Yes. But now is a perfect time to pick up a new game to play around the kitchen table. Whether its Euchre (I’m still working on it), Catan, or even perfecting your Poker face, take a break from professional development and instead work on learning a new game.

Play a round of Chopped: Home Pantry Edition.

For those of you who don’t frequent the Food Network, Chopped is a show in which four chefs compete against each other. In each round there are four “basket ingredients.” These basket ingredients must be used in some way, shape, or form, and typically end up being some off-the-wall, unexpected item that must then be used to create an appetizer, entrée, or dessert. After you’ve reorganized your pantry (because goodness knows there’s time now), take that flavored olive oil, an overly ripe banana, a packet of oatmeal, and a can of tuna and see what you come up with! Okay, maybe use some more tasty items, but you get the idea. Now, grab that apron and get cooking!

Reorganize your living room furniture.

This has the built-in benefit of killing two birds with one stone. Not only do you try your hand at being Joanna Gaines (you know, from Fixer Upper), but you also engineer a little extra movement into your day. Sometimes just a quick rearrangement can make that space you’ve been spending a lot more time in feel brand new. Just make sure you don’t take it a step too far and channel your inner Chip Gaines for a demo-day. (Jokes!)

Make a scrapbook of that awesome vacation from 3 years ago.

We all know you probably took a bajillion pictures when you were out West on that road trip, many of which didn’t make the Instagram cut. So break out the scissors, cardboard, stickers from all the places you explored, and of course all the goofy photos you snapped, and get down to business!

Finally finish that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table.

We’ve all seen those articles, right? Something along the lines of “How CEOs Read 247 Books a Week.” Well now’s a great chance to pick up that half-read book and finish the darn thing! Even if you’re not a bonafide bookworm, maybe check out something like a history of your favorite sports team, a biography from a standup comedian you love, or the book version of one of your favorite movies or shows to see how they compare.

Call a loved one or a friend you want to reconnect with.

While we’re adjusting to this new normal and practicing social distancing, that doesn’t mean that social isolation has to be part of the equation. As humans, we are social creatures by nature. So, that quick phone call to check in on your mom or dad, your good friend from college, or that coworker you really miss can go a long way in lifting your spirits, as well as theirs.

If you’re restless, get up and move!

As a blog writer for a fitness center, this one may seem like “duh, Lauren, we get it.” And I know most of us have probably had our Facebook page, Instagram timeline, and Twitter feed bombarded with versions of at-home workouts. But I think there is a lot of truth behind the notion that movement is medicine. If you’re restless, do a one-minute workout. If the weather’s nice where you are, get outside for a breath of literal fresh air. If you have a makeshift garage gym, blast some “Eye of the Tiger” and duplicate a Rocky training montage. However you choose to move, chances are you’ll come out in a better mood on the other side.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: attitude mindset illness prevention mental health quarantine covid-19 coronavirus

How Getting Outdoors Helps Your Well-Being

GettyImages-857107456nGrowing up and continuing to live in the Midwest, I’ve grown to appreciate the summer months more and more. In fact, in Michigan we joke that there are really only two seasons:

  1. Sweltering summer with a side of construction.
  2. The endless frozen tundra that is 8 months of winter.

Long story short? When it’s nice enough to not have to wear a parka to brave the outdoors, you best believe I’m outside on a bike ride, relaxing by a lake, or unplugging on a hike in the woods during my down time.

Recharging Your Batteries with Nature

I’ve always felt like this has helped me recharge my batteries, anecdotally at least. But now, more and more research is mounting to support the idea that simply being in nature has numerous benefits to health and well-being. For example, a meta-analysis completed by Jones & Twohig-Bennett (2018) found statistically significant decreases in diastolic blood pressure, incidence of diabetes, and salivary cortisol (hello decreases in stress), while also reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and improving life expectancy and mental health. Not too shabby, right?

Spend Two Hours or More Outside Each Week

But how much time do you need to spend in nature to reap the rewards for health and well-being? It looks like current research is supporting the 120-minute threshold per week.

White et al. (2019) examined results from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey in England, which included 20,000 people over a three-year span. They found that those who reported being in nature for two hours or more during the week were overall healthier and had a greater sense of well-being compared to those who did not get outside at all. Spending 60 to 90 minutes came with some improvements, but it was not as significant an effect as two hours. And over 5 hours per week had no additional benefits. What’s more, these results rang true across all demographics examined in the study: age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, proximity to nature—all exhibited improvements to health and well-being at the two-hour mark.

So, the moral of the story? While the exact mechanism remains unknown, making time in your schedule to get outside in some way, shape, or form for two hours a week (in ANY increments of time) can not only help you mentally recharge, but also significantly improve your health and well-being going forward.

For some tips on exercising outdoors safely in the summer, check out this blog.

Like what you've just read? Click here to subscribe to our blog!

This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: outdoors cardiovascular outdoor exercise stress relief longevity nature mental health well-being