Ok, so I may not be the most normal person on the planet but trust me, if it weren't for these seven little anti-lunatic gems, the men in white would have taken me away a long time ago.
1. Clean out the kitchen sink.
This life saving tip was one I learned years ago from my favorite healthy-habit heroine over at FlyLady.net, and tops my list of secrets to staying sane. FlyLady swears that waking up to a "shiny sink" is the single most mood-altering thing you can do all day, and I'm always amazed at how well it works. The kitchen is the first room I walk into every morning with the intention of "working." It's where I have to go to make breakfast even before I've so much as gotten dressed. As such, if I step into a room with a sink-full of dishes, I will invariably have a bad day. Honestly, who wants to start their day off dealing with a mess--an instant reminder of some prior inadequacy, some tangible evidence of a didn't-quite-live-up day? If I accomplish nothing, I at least have to make sure the sink is cleared out the night before (even if it means there are dirty dishes on the counter). This way I'll at least be able to start the next day off in a better mood. The kitchen sink may not always be your thing, though. Maybe you don't even step into the kitchen in the morning. (Woo hoo, Einstein Brother's Bagels, here you come!) Either way, find that one space--the one work area that you need every morning--that has the greatest effect on your mood. Maybe it's making sure your dresser is full of clean clothes to chose from, or that you don't have to kick your way through toys to get to the front door. Maybe it's even having a clean, relatively organized bathroom. Regardless of your mood-setting vice, figure it out, and make sure it's taken care of before your head even hits the pillow.
2. Care what you look like.
Yet another bit of FlyLady advice, albeit slightly altered, is the concept of caring what you look like. FlyLady describes it as being "dressed-to-shoes" and explains that it programs your body to think you're ready to face the day. (If you've ever spent the day lying around the house in pajamas, you know just what I mean.) I once had a friend who wore a Prom dress to church one Sunday. When asked what the occasion was, she simply replied, "Sometimes when you feel bad, at least you can still look good." For me, drying my hair and fixing my face has sometimes been the one thing that, no matter how badly everything else feels, has gotten me through a day. At first it was simply part of an effort to attract slightly more attention from my better half. Eventually, though, the simple morning routine became a way of grounding me to reality, and no matter how much of a screw-up I perceived myself to be at the moment, sometimes just passing by a mirror and realizing that I at least still looked good was enough to keep me going.
3. Go for walks. A lot.
Number 3 on my list of things I have to do every day just to "feel right" includes an hour-long walk every morning around my neighborhood (or on the treadmill, if the weather is bad). This one act gives me a ton of benefits, from getting all those feel good juices flowing (like oxytocin and endorphins), to getting the blood and oxygen circulating, to adding my daily dose of Vitamin D3 (nature's mood-booster), to having time to myself to think, reflect, and listen to my favorite music before my day becomes over-run by miniature versions of myself, biting at my ankles and begging for mac n' cheese and My Little Pony. (Not to mention the subsequent health benefits as well as the confidence boost of a drop in the scale--see Number 2 above.)
4. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth.
Having recently completed a Healthy Challenge, I can absolutely testify to the potential effect that the things you put into your mouth can have on your body, from sugar to caffeine to vegetables. Even your medications and supplements can have an effect on your mood. For example, the feel-good Vitamin D3 you get from being out in the sunlight (as mentioned above) has a huge effect. That's the real reason that more people suffer from depression and/or commit suicide during the winter months, when they're not as likely to spend enough time outside. As such, it's just as important to have your doctor monitor you D3 levels and suggest a good supplement if they are too low, which is common in the majority of Americans, who spend most of their time indoors in little pods, strapped to a desk. So, make more of an effort to eat a balanced diet, get at least five fruits and veggies a day and 64 oz of water, cut back on the sugar and highly processed foods, and learn what kind of effect your medications actually have on your body. Couple this step with the one above (walking everyday) and you'll be amazed at how much better you feel, both physically and mentally.
5. Stop spending money you don't have.
Despite our desires that it be otherwise, money is what makes the world go round. It's what will keep us lying awake in bed at night when we don't have enough of it to pay the bills, it's what keeps us from doing and/or having what we really want, it's what motivates us to continue to go back to a job we dislike day in and day out (when we'd really rather be at the lake), it's the number one cause of divorce, and it's one of those things that will continually hold us back from making our dreams come true if we don't get at least some kind of control over it. If you're like the majority of other Americans, you don't have the slightest clue where most of your money is at any given moment (short of checking your online bank balance), to say nothing of where it should be going. Having grown up in less than prosperous circumstances, nothing drives me nuts faster than the thought that I can't afford to step into a store and buy the things I need for my family or my home. I used to think that having to keep up with where all my money needed to be going was like my money had control over me. Turns out I was wrong. Knowing where my money is and where it needs to be means that I can make the ultimate decision on what I want to do with it and not the other way around. I've tried half a dozen different budgeting apps and software options. The one we use and love is called YNAB (YouNeedABudget) and was ingeniously created by a couple of BYU graduates. (Seriously, it's like no other budgeting software on the market and I am quite frankly amazed that Intuit didn't think to do it this way a long time ago!) You can download the software and try it free for 30 days. Once you purchase it, it will work across all of your devices, from PC to Mac to tablet, and it is--trust me--by far the simplest, easiest to use, and most efficient budgeting method I have ever had the pleasure of trying. Download it, import your data, and make it work for you. You'd be amazed what you can actually afford to do--and the positive effects it will have on your mental well being--once you get control of your money and make it work for you.
6. Learn to always say no.
I have two children that are very, very different. (I mean, like, if one of them really is mine then I question how the other one could be, too.) My daughter, being the sweet, innocent little people-pleaser she is, would automatically answer every question with the word "yes" from the day she was old enough to talk. Even when she had no clue what you were talking about. My son, on the other hand, would respond with a standard "no" before you could even get the words out. As such, my daughter has a deep-seeded fear of offending or upsetting people. She is always terrified she is going to make someone feel bad, and will agree to do things that she doesn't even really want to do in order to avoid such a situation. I'm pretty sure she gets it from me. (I guess that makes her the one that's really mine.) As an unfortunate result, I too have a constant fear that I am not living up to other people's expectations. That I am going to somehow disappoint or let others who depended on me down. And to be honest with you, I really just need to get over it. In this SuperMan/Woman age, where we think we're supposed to be everything to everyone, it's important to know and clearly set our limits. Make your first reaction always "no" instead of "yes," or, at the very least, "Let me think about it and get back to you." Define boundaries. Ask people to clearly communicate their expectations of you, so you know exactly what you need to do and can act accordingly without feeling like you didn't do enough--or, in some cases, respectfully decline all together. Being overwhelmed with too many responsibilities and commitments is probably the worst type of insanity there is. Being productive is good for mental health. Being burned out and teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown? Not so much.
7. Get a clue.
On that note, and rounding out our list, is the concept of having at least the slightest inkling of an idea about what's going on. You can't very well know whether or not you can commit to something until you know what you've already committed to in the first place, now can you? Unfortunately, I've been woefully underwhelmed with the amount of time-management materials available for the sake of common household-planning. That having been said, what do I do? Well, what I always do, of course--design my own. I give you exhibit A, the Mom Board. At any given time I can see everything from appointments to dinner plans to projects to shopping lists. It's part of what I call my GetItTogether system (and yes, they'll be a post, I promise). Whatever your method may be, from paper planners to digital calendars categorized and synced across multiple devices to sticky notes taped to the dash, get a clue about what's going on in any given day. Not only will it save your sanity, it may even spare you from spending $25 on pizza when you realize you forgot to thaw the chicken or a trip to the ER when you're kicking toys across the living room in a desperate attempt to get out the door for an appointment you're already 15 minutes late for, and one of those toys happens to beam a kid in the forehead. (Yes, it's happened. Not to me, but it has happened.)
"Ok, so, would it be...like...nosy if I asked you how much weight you've lost?"
"You're the picture of health," my step-mother said to me at a family cookout yesterday. This was, ironically, the day after having lunch with an old and dear friend that I hadn't spent much time with over the last few years.
"Wow, you look incredible!" are the first words out of her mouth. "Have you lost weight?"
"As a matter of fact I have," I answer with a smile.
A short while later, as we stand at the register to pay for our meal, she steps up to me and lowers her voice to ask me how much I'd lost. When I tell her, she can't believe it. "But that can't be right! It seems like so much more!" I try to hold back my witty tongue from slipping out a, 'What are you trying to say? That I was huge before?' What she doesn't realize is that the "looking awesome" part had very little to do with a drop in the scale, and much more to do with a rise in healthy habits. After a brief explanation of the healthy challenge I'd been following for the last 10 weeks or more, and the insistence of how simple it really is, I agreed to share my insights.
RULE 1: Cut out the crap.
This is especially hard when trying to get through parties or special occasions when you really, really want to eat that piece of birthday cake or baby shower cookie. A little tip I discovered that helps alleviate that insufferable sense of deprivation is to take some with you anyway and pop it into the freezer for cheat day. You'd be surprised at how much harder it is to say, "I can't have this," than it is to say, "I can't have this right now." You can choose other items you'd like to avoid, such as gluten, potatoes, or red meat (like I tried to do), but that's the great part of the challenge. It's simple enough for anyone to follow, and customizable to you!
RULE 2: Learn to love veggies.
Step 1: Have fruit with breakfast.
Next on the healthy challenge list: a combination of 5 fruits and vegetables every day. This isn't hard at all if you just know how to do it. "It'd be, like, 8 o'clock at night and I'd suddenly remember I hadn't had enough vegetables and I'd have to go open up a can of peas..." explained a friend of mine who'd joined the challenge with us. Yeah, sorry D., that's not how it's done. The trick is to substitute, not supplement. Cut out those pizzas and potato chips and replace them with fruit and veggie packed goodness. Just because it's healthy doesn't mean it has to be torture. You just need a tasty plan.
Just make sure you keep in mind the amount of sugar that's going into your shake. Read the labels on whatever protein powder you use. Products like Nectar or V Core have as little as 2 grams of sugar. Don't be afraid to throw in some extras, like Ovaltine or Vitamin C powder. Frozen fruit makes it thicker, and if you use refrigerated coconut milk (my favorite) you may need a spoon!
Step 2: Have a salad for lunch. Every day.
Step 3: Have a lean protein and at least two veggies with dinner.
Step 4: Always have healthy snacks on hand.
Having a protein shake every morning inevitably means I'm hungry by 9am. That's ok, it's just more of an opportunity to get more of those fruits and veggies in! The key is to follow the PRO rule. PROtein and PROduce. Some of my favorites include cottage cheese and pineapple, bananas and peanut butter, cucumbers and hummus, apples and almonds, fruit smoothies, Greek yogurt and raspberries, strawberries and cheddar, and cucumbers and tuna salad. The important part is to always have healthy snacks handy, whether in your own kitchen or in your desk at work (I keep nuts and dried fruit in my bag). Eventually you're going to get hungry. Having something healthy to reach for just makes it all that much easier.
RULE 3: Drink A LOT of water. (I mean, like, a TON.)
Next on our list is a minimum of 80 oz. of water per day (that's the traditional 64 plus extra because we'll be exercising). To give you a bit of an idea about exactly how much water that is, it's 2 liters PLUS 2 cups. Every morning I fill up a 16 oz cup and a 64 oz jug. I use the jug to continue to fill up the cup throughout the day, until it's completely empty. It's a lot of water--trust me, I know--but eventually you will get used to sucking on a cup of water all day long (add flavored drink enhancers if you have a hard time getting through it). You will also get used to going to the bathroom every hour or so. All of this sounds like a huge hassle, but the benefits of staying hydrated are phenomenal! Not only are you flushing toxins out of your body, you will find yourself more energized, and your skin will literally begin to glow! Just make sure you find some way to keep up with how much you're getting, whether filling bottles or jugs, and stick to that 80 oz. You'll be glad you did!
RULE 4: Move.
RULE 5: Get accountable.
Using the checklist above as a guide for your daily activities, each checkbox counts as one point (with every 30 minutes of exercise counting as one checkbox). There's even a section to add one area you want to work on daily that's not listed. The way we did it was to have a max amount of points each week (the above chart would equal 49 points, with all points "free" on cheat day) and then get extra points based on the total percentage of weight loss. FitWatch was the site we used to calculate the percentage of weight lost each week. There are other items that we included in our challenge, like adding an extra challenge point each week ranging from taking a multivitamin to flossing. Customize your challenge to meet your needs, but the basic outline and simple steps above will definitely get you started on the right track!
*Disclaimer: I am in no way a physician, dietician, trainer, or nutritionist. This is simply what has worked for me. Everyone is different and every body is different. Always consult your doctor before beginning any new fitness or diet plan.
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