March 02, 2020
Aseeya Grant-Aitahmad, Health Educator
Do you want to increase your energy levels, reduce stress, and become a more productive person? Try sleep! Since you’re alive and reading this, chances are you have experienced sleep in your life. With your previous sleep experiences, you likely have a diverse portfolio: you’ve had enough sleep, too much sleep, too little sleep, and/or way too little sleep. With each of these experiences you are the best judge to know just how much sleep is “enough” sleep for you, and how you feel the next day. Getting a good night’s rest and the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep seems like a foreign subject to some. Let me tell you, you are not alone! The National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America® poll, found that less than 50% of the public wakes up and feels extremely or very well-rested. Though “only 10% of individuals reported sleep as a priority over other health goals like physical activity and nutrition”. What’s the deal with sleep and why are we not prioritizing it?
Now, I am no expert on sleep, but Johns Hopkins sleep expert and neurologist Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D. is! The Science of Sleep: Understanding What Happens When You Sleep, reviews what many researchers, including Wu, are finding out about sleep research and how sleep and health are correlated. A lot more is going on in our bodies while we are sleeping than we might think. You might know the feeling of nodding off while you are on your lunch break, trying to conceal your yawns at an early morning meeting, or fighting a 6 PM nap because you won’t sleep through the night if you fall asleep now. So, what is sleep? National Institute of Neurological Disorders (NINDS) states, “there are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep”. Explaining we cycle through all stages of non-REM and REM multiple times throughout the night. Sleep regulation is also an important concept to better understand sleep. Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D. explains there are a couple key words to know when thinking of sleep regulation: sleep drive and circadian rhythms. Sleep drive is the body’s way to communicate the need or “desire” for sleep. This article compares sleep drive to hunger drive. The biggest difference being that our body can’t force us to eat, but it can force us to fall asleep, even when it’s the least convenient! Circadian rhythms are like our biological clock, located in the brain. This clock helps with “responding to light cues, ramping up production of the hormone melatonin at night, then switching it off when it senses light”. There are many important things going on in our body and brain while we are sleeping, if we are getting too little sleep our body isn’t able to fully recharge for the next day.
Need an extra push on why you should focus on your sleep today? The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute identifies sleep as a critical part of overall health, stating “getting enough quality sleep at the right times can protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety”. They also discuss that continuing sleep deficiency can increase your risk for long-term health concerns. Unfortunately, just understanding what sleep is and its importance won’t help everyone get a good night’s rest. There are a lot of external factors that contribute to how well we sleep: family, pets, work, temperature, screen time, etc. Along with external components, there are many internal parts that can influence how well an individual sleeps. Around 70 million Americans have sleeping disorders. Some types of sleeping disorders include insomnia, narcolepsy, and sleep apnea. There are many local resources like University of Utah Health’s Sleep Wake Center and LDS Hospital’s Sleep Disorder Center for those who are seeking outside help. Whether the things that are keeping you from getting a good night’s rest are internal or external make a small change today to focus more on your sleep!
January 31, 2020
Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat
Written By: Melissa Yates, Health Educator
During the month of February, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) encourages people to reflect on the positive steps they have taken toward accepting themselves and others. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week runs from February 24th to March 1st, making now a great time to bring awareness to this subject and highlight the importance of having a healthy relationship with food. Promoting awareness is important because almost everyone knows someone who has been affected by an eating disorder or has struggled with body image expectations.
There is a stereotype that eating disorders only impact specific types people, but that is simply not true. In fact, this myth about eating disorders creates barriers for people and makes it even harder to reach out for help. People of all ages, genders, sizes, races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses struggle with eating disorders. According to NEDA, as many as twenty million women and ten million men experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives. It is also crucial to understand that eating disorders are not a choice, and there is no single cause of an eating disorder. They may develop as the result of a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and social factors. Several decades of genetic research show that biological factors are an important influence in who develops an eating disorder, as reported by NEDA. However, it is important to remember that your biology does not equal your destiny. There is always hope for recovery!
Media today is filled with misleading images that skew the definition of a “healthy” body. The American Psychological Association has suggested that children as young as three years old recognized that the unhealthy images of thinness in mass media are portrayed as ideal. A societal factor, like the media-driven thin body ideal, is an example of an environmental factor that has been linked to an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. Environmental factors also include physical illnesses, childhood teasing and bullying, and other life stressors.
Not having a healthy relationship with food can not only make someone unhappy, but it can also negatively affect their mental health. Changing disordered eating habits is both possible and important; everyone can benefit from developing the awareness necessary for creating a healthier relationship with food. We all have our own attitudes and patterns of behavior around food, whether this is due to genetics, circumstances, or family conditioning. Being aware of where those attitudes and behaviors come from provides the basis for mindful eating, but the only way to understand our relationship with food is to spend time with that relationship.
It is important to understand that food inherently is not good or bad. Unfortunately, people use the words “good” or “bad” to describe food as if you are good or bad for eating them, which is just not true. Doing this only leads to guilt and stress about eating. Guilt should never play a role in food choices. Guilt robs you of the pleasure of eating and makes you feel bad afterward, which can start a downward spiral of shame that prevents you from learning to make better eating choices while still honoring your cravings and allowing yourself to eat things you enjoy. Mindful eating seeks to undo negative emotions around eating and encourages you to let go of the traditional all-or-nothing mindset. Instead, eat according to your natural body, not the body prescribed by magazine images and media-fueled pressures.
Bringing mindfulness to the table will lead to a kinder, gentler approach to eating. The focus is not necessarily on changing the food you eat, although it can be. The focus is on changing your thinking around food. Once you are able to acknowledge your attitudes and behaviors about food, you are better equipped to put down any belief that some foods are good, and others are bad. Food is just food. In viewing food this way, you can free yourself from emotions that fuel your habits. You do not have to eat your feelings, and on the occasions that you do, you learn that you do not have to beat yourself up for doing so!
The bottom line is that much of the talk around food and nutrition today traps us into an all-or-nothing way of thinking that prevents us from achieving true well-being. Traditional diet culture causes much of our stress around eating, and often leads to false or unrealistic expectations. The next time you catch yourself feeling guilty for enjoying a tasty treat, take a moment and reconsider those feelings. As you step away from all the unhealthy thinking and language surrounding food, you get to enjoy food again. Imagine instead having a more balanced and carefree attitude, freed from the shackles of poor eating habits. It is with this kind of perspective and awareness that you can discover renewed confidence, freedom, and self-acceptance.
- National Eating Disorders Association website: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
- Eating disorder screening tool to help determine if it's time to seek professional help: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool
- National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline: (800) 931-2237
- Monday-Thursday from 9AM to 9PM ET
- Friday from 9AM to 5PM ET
- For crisis situations, text "NEDA" to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line.
December 30, 2019
Positive Self Reflection + Change
Written by: Jayne Hansen, Health Educator
For me, the new year brings bitter-sweet feelings of reflection. I reflect on the good times, the hard times, and the times that encouraged growth. Reflecting on places I’ve visited, accomplishments I’ve reached, or new friendships I've made. Reflection, when done positively, has the capacity to bring gratitude and fulfillment into our lives. Here are a few tips to reflect on the good of 2019 and welcome new change in 2020.
Choose the right environment.
Choose your favorite spot in the house. Make sure the table is clear from all the yummy holiday treats from all your neighbors. Light your favorite candle and have a notepad handy to write down your thoughts and impressions for the year. If you think best while on the go, consider going for a walk-in nature, sitting on a park bench, or next to a quiet stream surrounded by beautiful trees covered in thick white snow. Whatever the environment you choose, make sure it allows you to reflect honestly about your year.
Set time boundaries around self-reflection.
Just like where you reflect, the time of day you reflect is also key. Reflecting on your 2019 when you are exhausted from all the hustle and bustle may not allow you to see the year for what it was. Therefore, reflecting on your year when you are emotionally and mentally charged will allow you to see the positives of this last year. Not sure when you will feel emotionally or mentally charged? Take a mental health day, do something you enjoy, or take the afternoon off. Do something for yourself, and you will fill your mental and emotional bank so you can see your year for what it really was.
Remember the things you’ve done well.
We all know it’s true, “we are our own worst critic.” When reflecting, it is natural for us to see the things that we did poorly this last year. Georgian Benta, founder and host of the Gratitude Podcast reminds us that it’s our brain’s natural tendency to focus on what we have done wrong. To balance the reflection, he suggests counting your accomplishments too! “At the end of each day, go through what you experienced and find three things that you did right. It can be something as simple as driving to work and back safely, putting the final touch on a project, or being able to respond better to a difficult situation.” There is power in finding the good in each day. This can be done when reflecting on 2019. Find three things that you did right this year. Once you have 3, challenge yourself to keep going! I promise you can do it!
Write down your reflection.
Writing down your reflection of the year can solidify what the year meant to you. For example, 2019 was a challenging year for me. I had a lot of moments that pushed me and encouraged me to work hard. 2019 was my year of growth. I tried new things, I made new friends, I had moments of failure, and I had moments of victory.
Write down the specifics of the year.
The names of the new friends you made, the moments of failure, and the moments of victory. This is an empowering exercise. It encourages you to see your year for what it truly was. It is also fun to add facts about your year. Where you lived, where you worked, how much gas costs, your favorite restaurant, movie, hiking trail, etc. Writing down these specifics is a great way to compare the uniqueness from year to year. It is also a great way for future generations to see what life was like back in ‘2019’. Make it fun and show your personality.
List things you appreciate about yourself.
Benta suggests that you come up with a list of things you appreciate about yourself. “Make a list of your qualities, whether they’re on the inside or on the outside. This will help you achieve a healthy self-image and give you confidence.” He proudly quotes one of his podcast guests, Rino Soriano: “The more value you find in yourself, the more appreciative you are of your life and of everyone else.”
Set healthy intentions for 2020.
Based off your positive reflection for 2019, you are better able to set a healthy intention for 2020. Setting an intention is setting your mantra for 2020.
Here are a few examples:
- 2020 will be the year of forgiveness. I will forgive others who have hurt me with or without an apology. I will forgive myself. I will forgive so I can find true fulfilment in life's moments.
- 2020 will be the year of adventure. I will be open to excitement and moments that encourage me to live fiercely.
- 2020 will be the year of talents. I will develop skills that will become some of my most cherished talents.
- 2020 will be the year of friendship. I will stretch myself and make friendships that will last decades.
- 2020 will be the year of good health. I will focus on the different dimensions of wellness to increase my overall health. I will be kind to myself and honor my body's cravings.
Set goals to reach your intention.
Once you have an intention for your year, you have narrowed your focus for goal setting. This is when things get real exciting. Goals are actions that will help you achieve your 2020 intention for the year. Make sure they are SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time sensitive) and goals that you feel passionately about to accomplish. Goal setting can be an empowering experience. But only if you feel dedicated to your goals. Be sure that your 2020 intention and your goals reflect honestly what you want to accomplish this year.
November 25, 2019
Written by: Aseeya Grant-Aitahmad, Health Educator
It’s that time of year again: looking forward to early mornings scraping off our cars of ice and snow, preparing to take the slippery roads among Utah’s best drivers, and watching the beautiful inversion-filled sky as the sun starts to set at 5 o’clock. With colder weather approaching feelings of excitement for various holidays and the New Year often come with. Though the holiday season is advertised as the most wonderful time of year, for many it can bring unwanted feelings of stress. Stress is an inevitable part of life, and often doesn’t receive the attention it requires to be managed in a healthy way. Let’s look at what stress is, why it’s important to your health, and ways you can manage this undesired feeling this holiday season.
Unfortunately, stress is not just that feeling of panic when you are driving to work on a snowy day, driving on a busy unplowed road, and left the house 10 minutes later than you usually do. The National Institute of Mental Health describes stress as “how the brain and body respond to any demand”. Thinking of stress using this broad definition can be eye opening to how often we encounter stress in our lives. Knowing this, it’s important to remember that not all stress is bad stress! Stress is how the body prepares and reacts for potentially dangerous situations. Problems arise when these lifesaving reactions turn into chronic stress. The American Heart Association states that long-term activation of stress can lead to digestive problems, anxiety, headaches, depression, sleep problems, weight gain or weight loss, memory and concentration issues, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Whether good or bad, stress is here to stay. So let’s take a closer look! Stress can be broken down into acute and chronic stress:
What is it?
What are some examples?
Now that you’re a little more familiar with stress what do you do? Add “not stressing” to the long to-do list you already have? Now you are supposed to magically relax because you know how chronic stress can be damaging to your health? Of course not! Just like anything regarding health we have to work hard and that change comes through small steps over time. Fortunately, there are many ways to help manage, decrease, and cope with stress.
Let’s look at some ways that can help manage the beast called stress this holiday season:
- Give yourself plenty of time:
- Calculate how much time you think you need and incorporate some “wiggle room” for things like traffic, weather, and other delays in getting to where you need to be ahead of time.
- Minimize vacation tasks ahead of time:
- Planning can help decrease stress by having a plan for each aspect of travel. Know you’re going to need to be at the airport by 7:00 AM? Find someone reliable to give you a ride, schedule a Taxi or Uber, or locate public transportation schedules in advance to increase your chances of arriving ahead of time.
- Know your credit card coverage:
- Lots of credit card companies have travel protection. Contact your credit card company to give them a heads up if you are heading out of town.
- Enjoy your downtime:
- It’s easy to play “worst case scenario” in your head when traveling, try to avoid this! Queue your favorite podcast, download your favorite audiobook, or treat yourself to a fun magazine. With a good plan in place, you should take advantage of that “in between” time and do something that makes your travels more enjoyable!
- Plan Ahead:
- Start compiling a list of all people you would like to get gifts for and what their potential gift and cost could be. Sticking to a budget helps you keep your finances in check without being afraid to check your bank account after the holidays.
- Be creative:
- The generosity of gift giving doesn’t need to be tied to a monetary amount! Think about making your own gift, finding items on sale, buying off brand items, or donating the amount you would spend on a gift to an organization in the person’s name you are gifting.
- Have a good sense of humor:
- Don’t let your sister’s-boyfriend’s-grandma’s backhanded compliment about your casserole fester into negative self-thoughts or talk! Do your best to laugh it off, they may be dealing with their own things and not know the impact their snide comment had on you. Remember that we are all human and if we can find humor in the little things it feels much better than letting things get blown out of proportion.
- Set your boundaries:
- “Don’t let a yes to someone else be a no to yourself.” The holidays are a time of giving, but they can easily become overwhelming by feeling obligated to say yes to everything and everyone. Learn to say no!
- Take a breather:
- “Me time” is just as important as group gatherings. Don’t think that making time for yourself is selfish! Try to take at least 15 minutes a day doing something you enjoy.
- Set aside differences:
- This can be very difficult. Try and appreciate family, friends, and loved one’s gathering to enjoy time together. You don’t have to and aren’t expected to see eye to eye on everything.
Tackle the holidays feeling confident with these tips and manage your stress this holiday season!