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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

10 Emotional Wellness Insights from the Pandemic

GettyImages-1247301039It’s safe to say that 2020 has been one a heck of a year (and it’s barely half over!)—the good, the bad, the ugly. At times, it’s felt as if an entire decade has passed. No matter how you slice it, the fact that we’ve experienced something as novel as a global pandemic still feels weird to say, think about, and sometimes fully appreciate. It has been a tumultuous time outside of COVID-19 as well, and every person has had a unique experience, a unique perception, and unique challenges along the way.

We’ve all probably learned a thing or two about ourselves. We’ve had time to reevaluate what is important to us, and maybe find a few things that aren’t. Here are just a few things I’ve left quarantine with, in no particular order:

My Quarantine Takeaways

  • I needed to uncouple productivity from self-worth. In working from home, I found that I accomplished most tasks in spurts. I’d work for 2 hours straight, then go for a walk, then jot down ideas for projects for 30 minutes, then get in a lift, then eat while watching a show, and on and on. Other days I just wouldn’t have it—no juice, no gas in the tank. Responding to emails felt like a win. And then the eventual guilt would sink in. Why didn’t I do more? How is this all that I got done today, this week? After a few weeks of this cycle, I finally told myself, “STOP.” It’s okay that there are things left on your to-do list. Its okay that you’re not motivated every second of every day. What we lived through, and are still living through, is something that we have literally never seen or experienced (at least I haven’t!). So give yourself some slack, be a little more forgiving, and start each day fresh.
  • My “best days” involved some semblance of structure. Don’t get me wrong, I love a little bit of spontaneity. But for much of quarantine, I found that my good days involved a level of consistency. When I woke up gradually with coffee and water, got a little bit of work done first thing, cleaned up the bedroom/loft, got in a workout, completed any errands like grocery shopping, blocked off time for reading, and got outside for some vitamin D, I felt energized. I felt accomplished. Obviously, there were variations. But blocking off time, working through chores and work intermittently, taking time for myself with activity and self-care—more often than not these days fell into the “good” category. On days where I had no schedule, stayed up too late and slept in too long, binged a TV show, or had little activity, I felt like garbage by the end. I can still hear my high school statistics teacher saying, “correlation does not imply causation,” but at least my chances for a good day skyrocketed with a little routine.
  • The importance of “idle time.” Full disclosure: I’m not sure that working from home always meshed with my personality or temperament. I would check my email every five seconds, even though I just cleared my queue seconds before. I would write down three sentences, hear the ping of a new email dropping into my inbox, and lose my complete train of thought. I would sometimes go for a walk and feel myself getting tempted to check in. Like many of us, I’m already addicted to my phone, feeling incomplete if I leave a room without it (unhealthy, I know; I’m working on it). But I found that literally scheduling in time to do nothing did wonders for my focus. I wasn’t scatterbrained when I returned to writing or working on a project. In fact, just sitting doing nothing, or having a casual conversation with my housemates, seemed to just calm my nerves and anxious thoughts in general. Just 5-minutes of unplugged silence was powerfully calming as well. Moral of the story? Sometimes doing nothing is more productive than trying to do 42 things at once.
  • The power of connection. I’m sure by this point, most of us have come to a conclusion similar to this, so I’ll keep it brief. You don’t need to be in close proximity to be close to those you love and appreciate. Some of my simplest joys came from FaceTimeing with family or having a quick phone call with a friend. It’s a quick recharge for the mental and emotional batteries.
  • It feels great to make your bed first thing. It’s simple. It’s quick. It sets your day in motion on the right foot. And at the very least, you have a tidy place to come home to when you’re ready to hit the sack for the night. It just feels good.
  • My mood is correlated to the amount of news and social media I consume. See #3 from above, and you’ll get the idea. A little news is okay. Knowing what is going on in the world around us is crucial in my mind. But the constant onslaught of “breaking news” hour after hour, minute to minute, is completely exhausting. When I limited my consumption to short periods, one stint in the morning (after coffee of course) and one in the evening, I found that my day’s trajectory was a lot more positive overall.
  • Whether good or bad, this too shall pass. No matter how large my to-do list was, no matter how much uncertainty and worry crept into my thoughts, and no matter how cathartic a workout I had, every day came to an end eventually. Sometimes I found myself muttering “this too shall pass” under my breath when I would be feeling a particular amount of anxiety or stress. And you know what? It actually did help put things in perspective. Take the good with the bad, because it’ll all be over eventually one way or another.
  • It's okay if you binged that show or played that video game. Hey, we’re all human. Don’t beat yourself up for indulging a little bit here and there! (Refer to #1 as well!)
  • Take advantage of the sunny days. Growing up in Michigan, the second most cloudy state in the US (for real!), I had a bit of a head start on this lesson. But the pandemic sure as heck hammered it home. When it was a beautiful, sunny day, I made sure to get outside for some amount of time, even if it was only 20 minutes on the back deck in between meetings. It boosted my mood, calmed me down, and made me take a second to just have a little gratitude for the simple things.
  • There is a feeling of zen I have when lifting. I know: this is an obvious one coming from a coach. But that’s also why I left it until the other insights had their time to shine. Everyone has their own interests, their own ways to unwind, and for me that is under a barbell or with a couple of dumbbells in hand. My brain shuts off, the music blares, and I can just get lost in it. If you haven’t found something, some activity that brings you a sense of calm, I highly encourage you to start exploring! Hobbies and interests shouldn’t be left by the wayside just because they’re not your main hustle.

Lessons We Will Take with Us

I’m sure that everyone will leave quarantine changed in some way, shape, or form. And the lessons you’ll leave with will be completely unique to your experience. Whether positive or negative, try to carry these into your life post-pandemic. Because more often than not, they’ll help you in the long run moving forward.

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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 outdoors wellness vitamin D emotional self-care quarantine covid-19

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

Dear Soon-to-Be and New Mommies: You Can Do This!

GettyImages-1060547970Today, the realities of the human body immediately after giving birth are less mysterious than ever, a development some attribute to a changing climate around motherhood. In the past women felt like they couldn’t talk about the after-effects of having a baby, let alone caring for other children at the same time.

Everything Is Different and There Is Pressure from All Directions

People don’t talk about the messy postpartum “situations” that take place, the frustrating and sometimes painful process of figuring out breastfeeding, the wound care necessary for the area the baby came out from, oh and let’s not forget waddling around the house wearing whatever undergarments can hold everything together. And how about the best-kept secret of icepacks!

And how can we forget the added stressors of life in general. Maybe you’re hearing and feeling things like this:

  • Make sure you work out during your pregnancy.
  • Be sure to only gain 25–30 pounds throughout this whole 9 months.
  • Don’t forget to take care of the other kid/kids you have.
  • Please make sure that report is on my desk by 9am tomorrow.
  • Clean the house.
  • Work 40+ hours a week.
  • Make dinner.
  • Drive the older ones to school and sports.

And on and on and on…

DON’T PANIC! It’s natural to feel exhausted and unfamiliar in your new body and new life. From the time you become pregnant to the time that you give birth, each is a new beginning and an exciting chapter in your life.

The mental difficulties of pregnancy and the first few months after giving birth can be more challenging than the physical effects. Your body will begin to change from its previous state back to its new normal: shedding water weight, frequent trips to the bathroom (again), after-birth contractions as the uterus shrinks back down. If you are breastfeeding or not, there will be pain involved. Let’s not forget the hormonal change that will take place. All of this can lead you to having “baby blues” or feelings of postpartum depression. You are trying to adjust to a new life and a new baby, and these stressors can cause low self-esteem and doubt.

Tools for Confidence in the Postpartum Time

Do not give up! You are the same strong woman who just grew a child and gave birth, and you are who you have always been, but now you have someone else to share your strength with. The more you start to believe in yourself, the happier you will feel and be. Some stress relievers that helped me during my “baby blues” moments are the following.

Get Some Fresh Air

Getting outside for fresh air can help lift your mood. There are also many benefits of walking that include stress reducers. Take a walk by yourself, or take that precious new baby out for some fresh air.

Communicate

Having a new baby can make you feel as though you are alone. Making an effort to connect with friends, join a mommy and me group, or reach out to other moms can help you indulge in adult conversation and not feel isolated.

Take Time for Yourself

Ask for help. Making time for yourself will not only allow you a minute to breathe, it will also help you become a better mom by taking care of yourself.

Feel More Secure

Body confidence is typically the first issue that woman deal with after giving birth. Your body has spent the last 9 months stretching to make room for a growing baby. As long as that took, your body needs time to recover. Most of us do not bounce back as quickly as we would like and that’s okay. After having my first child, I felt like I bounced back better than I had anticipated, but the second one made me feel otherwise (and still does!). My body changed so much after having my second child. One of the hardest things for me was not feeling confident and realizing that this is my new body.

Love the Skin You’re In

Even if you don’t have anywhere to go, try to get up and make an effort every morning. Wear your favorite outfit, put on a little bit of makeup. Find a way to feel good about the day at the very beginning.

Make Time for Healthy Eating and Exercise

Probably the hardest of them all are these two! Without a doubt, eating healthy and exercising tend to be the last things on our minds after having given birth. The best advice I can give you is to plan ahead. During those months where nesting sets in and you have energy to get things done like the nursery and shopping, throw meal prepping in there as well so that you’ll have some healthy options ready to eat after the baby comes.

When it comes to exercising, once you are cleared after 6 weeks, start slow and build from there. Try bodyweight exercises, or walks working into a jog/run. When stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, find a friend to join you at the gym, find a class that you can ease intensity into, or join a program geared toward weight loss/strength. Find what fits you and your schedule.

The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love

Well soon-to-be, new, and veteran moms, I am here to tell you that the world is unfair, the jobs we have as mothers will continue to be the hardest jobs we’ll ever have. We will have good days, we will have bad days; we will have days that we want to run, and days when we have conquered the world. There will be days where we ask ourselves why we decided to do this, and days where we doubt every decision we made. It will be a constant cycle, of good, bad, bad, good, and so on.

Whatever situation you are in currently, I can say with confidence that YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS and YOU CAN DO THIS! There is no greater creation than that of a woman. LOVE YOURSELF! TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF! and ASK FOR HELP!

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

Topics: depression stress walking anxiety bodyweight pregnancy self-care self-esteem postpartum self-confidence

Putting Yourself First: Healthy Habits for the Pandemic (Part 2 of 2)

GettyImages-1151359854Personal trainers are people, too (well, at least when no one is looking!). In reality, there are a lot of new bridges we, as a society, are crossing every single day. As a trainer, my goal is to put all my effort into making sure that my clients are being healthy with fitness and wellness as a priority. With the lockdown upon us, finding new ways to get this job done is a challenge, but so is making sure that you are finding time for yourself.

As I stated in part 1, we are looking to “fill our cup” every day so that we can be the best version of ourselves that we can be. This in turn helps ensure that we can fulfill our daily agendas. We already touched on two aspects of self-care, home setup and sleep. Here I conclude our discussion with positive self-gratitude practices and meditation (and breathing).

Practice Self-Gratitude

It may take some time to get used to a self-gratitude–oriented mindset. The focus is on you! In our “normal” lives, we have careers that put us in positions where we must not only focus on work tasks, but also on putting your personal priorities on the back burner to serve others. The same can be said about people who take care of loved ones and raise children. Taking time for yourself is easier said than done, but at the end of the day, are you finding ways to refill your cup?

Lorea Martinez, PhD, a Social Emotional Learning practitioner, states, “Gratitude helps us cope better with stress, recover more quickly from illness, and enjoy more robust physical health, including lower blood pressure and better immune function. Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, the readiness to show appreciation and return kindness to others.” She gives these helpful tips on ways you can find the benefits of self-gratitude.

  1. Identify three things that you value about yourself.
  2. Acknowledge three things that went well each day.
  3. Take a moment to appreciate these things.
  4. Repeat!

Try Meditation

Another great way to cope is through meditation. For a beginner, meditation can be as simple as practicing calm, deep-breathing techniques. Your meditation can be many things, but it should definitely not be troublesome or a burden. Finding quiet and peace for even a few minutes per day is a great way to not only fill your cup, but also introduce a healthful practice into your day. NIFS blogger Amanda Licatatiso wrote about the benefits of mediation and some great practice tips. Check out her blog to see how adding a few minutes of meditation a day can impact your self-care plan.

Soon we will all start working toward going back to more normal routines, but until then, please make sure you are taking time for yourself. Remember, we need to take care of ourselves, so that we can take care of others (and our jobs). We are eager to see you again and help you reach your fitness goals. Until next time, muscleheads rejoice and evolve.

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits Thomas' Corner mindfulness meditation self-care quarantine work at home gratitude pandemic

Putting Yourself First: Healthy Habits for the Pandemic (Part 1 of 2)

GettyImages-1024725422There are no definitive right answers on how we are supposed to individually succeed during a pandemic. We all cope, struggle, and win the day in our own ways. We can all feel a little lost and confused at times, and that’s completely normal as we cross bridges into territory we have never experienced in our lives.

This idea makes you wonder, “am I doing this right” and “what should I be doing?” It’s not easy to answer because we are challenged in new ways daily. Sometimes it’s as simple as being motivated to wake up in the morning at your normal time, and other times it’s making sure that all your work is getting completed. Each person has their own daily cup, and filling this cup with what makes the most sense with both work and personal life fulfillment is what should be expected of all of us. This is a form of “putting yourself first.”

In this two-part blog, I cover several topics and ideas that will help you in making better, more healthful decisions.

Keep to a Routine and Manage Your Setup

During this extended home lockdown, we tend to find ourselves with a lot of time on our hands. Work-from-home is being done from makeshift offices, and sometimes we are cutting corners here and there. One area where we can focus our energy for the good is our daily routines. Your daily routine of getting up for the day, eating meals, and exercise should mimic your normal daily routines; however, having your living space and workspace together can be a challenge. Find ways to allow your house to multitask with you. Have a place where you do your work, but also places where you can escape to rest, recover, and breathe.

Lawrence Biscontini, a world-renowned award-winning fitness professional, uses the following acronym to describe how you can promote self-care at your residence.

  • H—Your Hearth: This is where you find rest and recovery and refill your energy. Your bedroom sanctuary, free from all distraction and full of purposeful R and R.
  • O—Your Outside: How you connect with others and communicate.
  • M—Your Mission Control: Your home office and workstation, a place dedicated to getting your work completed. Your workspace is professional.
  • E—Eat: Refueling the body with nutritious food, free of social and outside distraction.

Get Better Sleep

The next topic, which is well documented and researched, is sleep habits and how to get better, healthier rest. In past NIFS blog posts by Cara Hartman, Hannah Peters, and several others, we see that sleep is extremely important and seemingly simple to master. However, with all the distractions that can come from lockdown (not to mention our insatiable love for technology), we find it tougher and tougher to get exactly what we need every day. Check out Cara’s blog on sleep habits, explaining what gets you to that bedtime in no time.

Keep Your Cup Full

Focusing on yourself is important. Your daily cup needs to be full enough so that you can do your job, help others, and enjoy life. In part 2 of this blog, I continue and conclude this discussion. Remember, take it one day at a time, taking care of yourself as a priority. Finally, when it comes time to meet again, NIFS and NIFS staff will be ready (we hope you are too!). Take care, and muscleheads rejoice and evolve.

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

This blog was written by Thomas Livengood, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy habits Thomas' Corner sleep self-care quarantine lockdown work at home pandemic