Your Immune System

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Flu season is rampant this year, with a strain that isn’t well matched to the vaccine (current estimates place it at about a 10-30% match). While getting the flu vaccine is at the top of my family’s to-do list every fall (here is a good overview on why we believe in the flu vaccine), there are other things we do to support our immune system, like eating healthy foods, getting exercise, and supplementing with Vitamin D. I also take a daily zinc supplement (read here about why zinc is important).

There can be many reasons for why our immune system isn’t functioning at optimal levels, including drinking too much alcohol, having high stress levels, and eating too many refined carbs/sugars. While getting sick from common viruses like colds and enterovirus (aka: stomach flu) is quite normal, if you find yourself getting sick often, it’s worth it to get checked out for underlying causes.

Even though I know all the things to do in order to keep my immune system in good shape, I still get sick a couple of times a year. We can’t always nip our stress in the bud as quickly as we would like, or it’s the holidays and we are partaking in more rich food and alcohol than we normally do (not to mention our exercise routines tend to go out the window in November and December). Keep this handy info page taped to your fridge or mirror to remind yourself of all the ways that you can naturally help your immune system be stronger.  And remember, this information should never take the place of a discussion with your doctor or trusted health professional, and never start a supplement without first talking to your medical professional.

immune system page 1

Immune system page 2

Midweek Mashup: Taco seasoning recipe, a cell phone contract for teens, and 13 easy yoga poses for stress.

MIDWEEK MASHUP

School is back in session and that means we could all use some tips on how to make things easier and more streamlined. Even if you don’t have kids in school, these tips are sure to be useful!

Why buy taco seasoning at the store which contains fillers and other weird ingredients when it’s cheaper and almost just as easy to make your own? Yesterday was Taco Tuesday at our house and I whipped together this easy recipe, with some left over for next time. Make a huge batch and seal it up and use it for several months! TACO SEASONING.

Does your twee/teen have a cell phone? Are you struggling with setting limits and enforcing them? If so, here’s one option: a cell phone contract. I like this particular one, and plan on having my almost 13 year old read and sign it today. Many parents (myself included) might even benefit from some of the points in the contract, such as etiquette and mandated times to turn off the phone.

If back to school or the changing season is causing some stress, here are 13 simple yoga poses everyone in the family can try. I’m going to break these out when my tween gets overwhelmed by homework and responsibilities.

Have a great week!

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Midweek Mashup! A Book Rec, A Favorite Product, and An Insightful Article on Resilience.

Peanut Butter and Banana Wraps For Back To School

 

 

Midweek Mashup! A Book Rec, A Favorite Product, and An Insightful Article on Resilience.

MIDWEEK MASHUP

So, how is your summer going? Is it long and lazy and wonderful? Is it busy and hectic and going too fast? Somewhere in between? For me it’s been the latter, and I’m none too happy about it. So, I’ve cleared my calendar for a few days and the plan is to simply relax and enjoy some rest.

First up on my non-agenda is to read the book The Art Of Being Ill: Or How To Be A Better Patient. I won’t bore you with details but the past two months have been an immunological roller coaster. My doctor finally gave me orders to rest, something I have a very hard time doing. I am looking forward to reading this book on the art of self care. Apparently before we entered the age of busy-ness, during the “Days of Yore”, people did a really wonderful job of convalescing. Laying around in bed and resting up was an art form. I’ll write an update soon and let you know what I thought of the book.

Secondly, I want to tell you about a fantastic product that I discovered my friend KC at Word Savvy using. I went to her house to pick her up one morning and her essential oil diffuser was on in her kitchen. I didn’t notice any clutter, or any dirty dishes or anything else because the diffuser made the entire room seem peaceful and calm. I immediately got online and bought one for myself. Depending on my mood and malady, I use different essential oils. I’m still learning about mixing essential oils but when I really need some calm I always just go for lavender. It doubles as a small humidifier so during the winter, next to my bed, it’s a very inexpensive luxury.

And lastly, I highly recommend reading this article from the “Well” section of the New York Times on boosting resilience in your adult years. There’s a lot out there about how we can help kids be resilient, but adults are also capable of building resilience, even in their older years. If you’re going through a traumatic experience such as a layoff, a scary diagnosis, or a family crisis, it is important to realize that you can navigate through it without succumbing to the fear and stress. “There is a biology to this,” said Dr. Charney. “Your stress hormone systems will become less responsive to stress so you can handle stress better. Live your life in a way that you get the skills that enable you to handle stress.”

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Midweek Mashup

Midweek Mashup

Let’s Talk About Stress

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Several of my friends and acquaintances have recently talked to me about how stressful and busy their January has been so far. And I agree with them. I’ve taken on a lot of new responsibilities, but also still have all the usual ones. It’s been a flurry of activity. The coziness and fun of the holidays is long gone, and here in the frozen north, we are now left with a lot of winter still to enjoy endure.

So, how do we not just cope, but thrive? That’s the key, isn’t it? We don’t want to just slog our way through our days.

If we are constantly stressed out, we will have too much cortisol, the “stress hormone”, pumping through our systems. This can lead to disruptions in sleep, metabolism, energy levels, blood sugar regulation and serotonin levels (which help keep our mood stable), amongst other maladies. However, cortisol isn’t the enemy. In fact, it’s a necessary hormone for a lot of reasons. It will give us a quick burst of energy in the event of an emergency (like running away from an attacker). It helps up our immunity and resistance to pain in acute situations. But it’s when we have constantly high levels of cortisol that our bodies do not function properly.

So how do we keep our stress levels in check? Here are some things I recommend:

  • Turn off the news. Now more than ever, it’s important to periodically turn off the 24 hour/day news channels full of constantly “Breaking News”. This goes for Twitter and other social media. Turn off your phone. Turn off talk radio. Turn off the t.v. It’s called a news fast, and I think it’s vital to our mental well being.
  • Exercise. This doesn’t necessarily mean running full steam on the treadmill or doing extreme cardio classes. If your stress levels are really high, high-intensity exercise probably isn’t your best bet. Activities like yoga, barre, hiking outside and swimming might be better for the time being.
  • Rest. Give yourself some time off. Read a book, have a cup of tea, take a nap. Get 8 hours of sleep a night. Seriously.
  • Get plenty of sunshine. Even in the dead of winter, getting outside and seeing the sun is important. Even on my most anxious of days, if I walk the dog in the fresh air and sunshine, I always feel better. Check out my post about the importance of getting outside here.
  • Magnesium. You can read the post on magnesium I wrote last year. (Never take a supplement or over the counter medication without approval from your practitioner). I take 200 mg of magnesium citrate each night before bed. It helps relax my muscles and my nervous system. Start small on dosing, as it can cause, ahem, loose stools.
  • Cut back on alcohol. I know. But it works.
  • Eat regularly. Skipped meals can cause blood sugar irregularities and contribute to excess cortisol. Make sure you keep your blood sugar in check by eating regularly.
  • Meditate. Check out my post on meditation here. I swear by it.
  • Give yourself a break. It sounds so superficial, but you *must* take time for yourself if you hope to have the energy to take care of everyone else in your life.  Whatever helps you feel calm and centered, do it on a regular basis.

We live in a culture where being constantly busy and stressed is valued. Why is that? It’s silly. We’ll all wake up in our 80’s or 90’s (God willing) and wonder what the heck happened.

I’m constantly struggling with maintaining some sort of homeostasis, just like everyone else. Just because I have all these tools doesn’t mean I’ve mastered any of it. But it has helped me to identify where I can make some tweaks and changes. Maybe this post will help you too!

Is there something that works for you that I haven’t listed? Please leave a comment! And as always, please share this post if you liked it. You can also sign up to receive all my posts in your email inbox. How great is that?! Just click where it says “Follow Blog Via Email”.

 

 

Under Pressure

stress sign

I walked out of Super Target today having no idea where I parked my car. The parking lot was jammed when I arrived and I snagged the first spot I could, then promptly forgot where. This has sort of been my M.O. lately. Every December I tell myself I’m going to pare back my expectations, and to some extent I have gotten better. But there are still things to take care of! I have so many to-do lists floating around in my head it’s only natural I forget the details, like where I parked my car.

One thing that I’ve decided not to even care about right now is whether my food is organic.  For the most part I buy much of my meat, dairy, and fruit and vegetables organic. I have a growing girl at home and it’s something that’s important to me. I also care about putting less chemicals into the environment. I like supporting smaller farms. All that stuff. And by the way, I also make zero judgements about how anyone else feeds their families.  We all have different things we care about. We all have different ways we allocate our budgets. December is always a time of spending more on groceries because I am cooking for others, making big batches of cookies and quadrupling soup recipes. It’s expensive! So this weekend while shopping with my daughter I just had this lightbulb moment where I decided to Just. Not. Care. Immediately a huge weight lifted and I felt happier. It’s kind of a small thing, but with big benefits. My budget will thank me and my stress levels will go down. (Note: I realize that being able to choose whether to buy organic or not is a privilege, and there are many people who go through every month wondering if there will be enough food on the table. If you are looking for a good charity to support, please consider making a donation to a local food shelf, or to Feeding America.)

So, what will you give yourself a pass on this month? Will you decide that not everything has to be homemade? Or that you’ll use gift bags instead of wrapping paper? How about that you don’t have to Pinterest the sh&% out of every project? If you need permission to let some things go, you are hereby absolved. Pick one or two (or if you’re an overachiever like me, five or six things) that you used to think were super important but upon reflection just really aren’t. I promise the holidays will still be special, perhaps even more so. Because instead of being cranky and tired and overwhelmed, you might find that you are actually enjoying the company of your family and isn’t that really what this whole thing is about?

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LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!

 

Headspace

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It’s been quite the couple of weeks, hasn’t it? I think it’s safe to say that many of us are feeling a little bruised and battered by the contentiousness of the recent elections. Many people are frightened, worried, angry, anxious. When you add Thanksgiving travel, cooking, and spending a lot of time in close proximity to many other people to the mix, it can feel completely overwhelming for many of us.

Because like me you might be feeling overworked and short on time, I want to take just a brief moment out of your week to tell you about something that I have found very helpful for a few years now. It’s an app called Headspace. It guides you through mindfulness meditations in a way that I find really helpful and comforting. You can choose different tracks like Self Esteem, Performance, Anxiety, and even Running. There are also two minute “S.O.S.” meditations you can do if you are feeling on the brink of disaster (hint: it’s pretty easy to slip away from talking politics with your great Aunt Ida for a few minutes to hit the reset button and gather your wits).

Various studies have shown that meditation slows down the heart rate and the autonomic nervous system, decreases cortisol levels (that’s the stress hormone), improves our working memory, helps us cope with pain, helps us sleep and may even boost our immune system.

You have to pay for Headspace after finishing the 10 day free trial, but my  opinion is that it’s totally worth it. If you want to avoid paying for guided meditations, YouTube is full of them. Promise me you won’t think that meditation is only for “those other people”. Trust me, it’s for everyone. Kids who are being taught mediation in schools have exhibited fewer discipline problems and higher grades, as well as lower anxiety and depression. It really does work, if only to help you quiet your “monkey brain” for a few minutes every day.

This week might just be the best time to give yourself a little bit of a respite from all that stress and worrying. If you do, I’d  love to hear how it worked for you.

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LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!

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*Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation for mentioning Headspace in this post. I truly love this app and just wanted to share.

 

Midweek Mashup

How are the first few days of fall treating you? I’m always so surprised by how quickly summer turns to fall here in the north. Thoughts turn to soups and roasts and brisk walks with the dog while bundled up.

Fall can bring about new stressors. Back-to-school, changing weather patterns, and a suddenly full calendar all seem to conspire to make us frazzled and frenzied. The impending holiday season will only make things more hectic, so now is a great time to check in with yourself and make any adjustments. I loved this article about how even the best nutrition can’t always counteract the inflammation that chronic stress creates. But don’t fret, there are so many ways to deal with stress. Mindful meditation is one of my favorite ways to quickly feel better. In fact, I have the Headspace app on my phone and use it regularly. Regular exercise is always a great bet. It releases endorphins that boost your mood.

And when all else fails, sometimes a hot bowl of comforting soup is just what you need.  Here’s one of our favorites, tried and true. This hearty lentil soup is full of flavor, has great nutrition, and is vegan. Sure, you can add some chicken if you’d like. Whatever makes you happy.

Stay tuned for this week’s Friday Cocktails!

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Let’s Get  Out Of Here!