Real Health is More Than a Number

health

This post is about questioning what you’ve been told and redefining what genuine health + wellness looks like to you. If you like this, stay in touch over in my Facebook community, Holistic Health for the Avid Adventurer, where I do free trainings on topics like this one. If you’re interested in strategic 1-1 support, schedule a free call and we’ll see if we’re a good fit. I would love to help you achieve your health goals now or in the future! ~ Katie

When it comes to your health, how do you measure “success”? How do you know your health efforts are “working”? If you’ve never given this much consideration, read on. 

I’m not a fan of the word success, especially when it comes to health, because it’s so nebulous. It’s not well-defined, and so we accept the default definition that’s handed to us by society at large. By not creating our own parameters for success, we succumb to other people’s metrics and take them on as our own. 

And what are the metrics we traditionally use to measure health? Here are a few: weight, calorie count, step count, and macro ratios. How much emphasis do we usually put on those numbers? In my experience (and I’m completely guilty of this), the answer is way too much. Those things might be part of health. But, in my mind, REAL HEALTH is about so much more.  

So, I invite you to consider this:

How are you currently measuring your health success? How do you know that the things you’re doing are working? Are the things you’re measuring leading to the long term result you want? If not, how do you want to redefine success and measure health more holistically?

To me, the point of eating real food, and moving my body, and getting enough sleep, and engaging in self care is to live a life of joy. It’s a life where I have plenty of energy, and I feel good, and I can go on outdoor adventures and feel strong. It’s a life where I feel sane around food, my inner dialogue is loving, and I’m moving my body from a place of joy. It’s a life where I’m present for my relationships and the work I’m here to do in the world. 

Though I rejected diet culture long ago (through much experimentation and self inflicted suffering), I still get caught in the trap of mainstream dominant paradigm. The one that tells me that my weight, and the number of calories I consume, or the amount of exercise I complete define my self worth. When in my heart, I know that my life is about so much more than that.

Remember that you don’t have to embody the toxic messages that come from much of the “wellness” industry (which, yes, I’m a part of; and yes, it’s confusing to find a voice you trust when there’s so much info coming at you. I get it.). 

You get to write your own rules. Or to say F it to rules, entirely.

I invite you to take a little quiet time to define for yourself what “healthy” truly looks like. How does healthy feel to you? How do you spend your time? How do you talk to yourself in the mirror? What are you able to do that is a struggle for you now? How do you show up in your relationships and in your day to day moments? Are you rigid, scattered, controlling? Or are you calm, grounded, and present?

If you’re willing to share, comment below!

To learn more about what it means to live a truly healthy life, find more freebies here.

Choose a Protein Bar That’s Actually Healthy

performance

You’re strolling down the ‘bar aisle’ at the grocery store. You know the one. The one with all the ‘energy bars’ and the ‘protein bars’ and the ‘meal replacement bars’ and ‘snack bars’, and… 

Perhaps, like me, this aisle overwhelms you a bit. But you need to stock your pantry for those mornings when you have to run out the door without breakfast, or maybe you need to refill your stash for your next weekend backpacking trip, so you start scanning the shelves. 

“Holy cow,” you think, “are there even more options than the last time I was here??”

New bar brands are hitting the shelves every day, and while this is great for adding variety when you inevitably get sick of your current favorite, it’s also overwhelming when you’re looking for one that’s going to power you up the mountains or through a long day of work. 

How do you choose one that’s healthy? How do you find one that’s not just a candy bar in sheep’s clothing? (If you’re going for a candy bar, that’s your call – just don’t pay protein bar prices for what’s essentially a well-marketed candy bar – e.g. those ‘nutrition’ bars with more sugar than a Snickers. #healthwashing.)

Why Protein + How Much?

First, what’s the big deal with protein? In short, it’s essential for every living being. You need it for proper immune function, and for muscle repair and recovery. It helps stabilize your blood sugar (and therefore, your energy levels) and keeps you full longer. It also carries electrolytes into and out of cells, and is a building block for muscles, skin, bones, and blood. 

How much do you need? There are a lot of opinions on this question. Protein needs vary based on gender, activity level, and your goals (weight loss, muscle gain, maintenance). The Recommended Daily Allowance is 0.8 grams per kilogram (1kg = 2.2 lbs, so that’s 0.36 grams per pound) of bodyweight. Personally, I feel best when I eat in the range of 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. It’s generally recommended that more active individuals eat more protein.

How do I choose one?

Here are 3 steps I use for bar selection + tips on when to use different bars based on your goals (recovery, muscle building, weight loss, etc.).

  1. Look at Ingredients

At a very basic level, look for whole, real foods; things you can readily identify, such as almonds, dates, oats, prunes, hemp seeds, cocoa powder, and so on. The ingredients should be simple and as close to the form found in nature as possible. 

  1. Consider Your Goals

What are your needs? Are you looking for a snack bar to tide you over until dinner? Or for a meal replacement? Do you plan to eat it while you’re being active, like on a long run or a hike? It’s helpful to know how and when you intend to use the bar because it can influence what you’re looking at in step 3.

  1. Scan the Nutrition Label

Look at the protein. To me, a protein bar should have, at minimum, 5 grams of protein. If you’re looking for a meal replacement bar or one to use when you’re exercising strenuously or during heavy lifting, look for 20+ grams of protein. If you’re on a specialty diet (e.g. vegan), look at the source of the protein and choose accordingly (e.g. avoid whey if vegan).

Look at the fiber. I generally prefer bars with 6+ grams of fiber. This keeps you full until your next meal, stabilizes blood sugar, and promotes a healthy gut microbiome. Fruit and nut-based bars generally have more fiber.

Consider calorie ranges. When searching for a snack bar in my day to day life, I’ll look for bars in the 200-calorie range. If it’s a meal replacement bar, 300-400 calories is a better choice, assuming I want it to keep me full until my next meal. If I’m on a thru-hike, I look for the highest calorie per ounce bar I can get.

Evaluate the Protein to Carbohydrate Ratio

Okay, just a little simple math required on this one. If you’re interested in losing weight, a bar with a 1:1 or 2:1 protein to carbohydrate ratio would be a good choice. If you want to build muscle, or improve workout recovery, or get a burst of quick energy, anywhere between a 1:2 to a 1:4 protein to carbohydrate ratio is what I’d look for. 

What to Avoid

There are a few things to avoid, if possible. One is sugar alcohols, like xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol, as these can cause bloating and cramps. I’d also steer clear of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors.

Final pro tip, find a handful of brands that suit your criteria and stock up on multiple flavors, because you will inevitably get sick of them. Having a rotation at least slows that process. Knowing some go-to brands makes future shopping trips faster and less overwhelming. Having a criteria for selection, as outlined above, makes the process quicker if you’re in a new store and you can’t find your go-to brands. 

I believe in meeting our nutritional needs through food first, but when you need an on-the-go meal or snack option, healthy protein bars can be a healthy option. You just have to know what to look for 🙂

You can find some of my go-to options here!

To join our free Healthy Ultralight Meal Planning eCourse, CLICK HERE.

3 Tips to Improve Your Home Fitness Routine

This post is about 3 tips to get the most out of your home fitness routine. If you like this, stay in touch over in my Facebook community, Holistic Health for the Avid Adventurer, where I do free trainings on topics like this one. If you’re interested in strategic 1-1 support, schedule a free call and we’ll see if we’re a good fit. I would love to help you achieve your health goals now or in the future! ~ Katie

Wondering how to get the most out of your home fitness routine? When you can’t hit the gym or attend your normal exercises classes, it’s helpful to have an effective strategy for maintaining your fitness in a small space, with little-to-no equipment.

Daily movement supports a healthy immune system, boosts mood, mitigates stress, and increases mental focus, just to name a few of the myriad benefits. With a bit of planning, a shift in mindset, and a few pieces of equipment (optional), staying fit from home is possible for anyone. Use this simple 3-step plan to get started.

Schedule It

Without set classes to attend or the accountability of a workout buddy, normal exercise sessions can fall by the wayside. Ensure you fit in daily movement by scheduling it on your calendar, as you would any other meeting. If it’s not scheduled, it usually won’t happen. In addition to having a dedicated fitness session each day, treat yourself to mini-movement sessions throughout the day. This could be 3 minutes of plank, 20 squats, or foam rolling between work blocks.

Additionally, it helps to plan what type of workout you’ll do each day. A well-rounded fitness routine includes different types of exercise, like cardio, strength, interval training, and flexibility/mobility exercises. Recovery time is also key to an effective fitness program.

At a minimum, aim for at least 30 minutes of cardio daily, along with a few strength sessions per week. Fit in mobility and flexibility as often as you can. If you can exercise outside, even near your home, all the better. Time in nature improves mood, reduces stress, and supports immune-boosting vitamin D production.

Focus on Variety + Plan Ahead

The options for what type of movement to choose are vast. If you just need to get started with something, walking and biking from home can provide a great workout. Include intervals to increase calorie burn and cardiovascular benefits.

With access to the internet, indoor workout options are endless. Many platforms and gyms offer online workouts of all styles, including high intensity interval training, bootcamps, kettlebell workouts, and yoga. Alternatively, try searching YouTube for whatever style of workout you’re seeking. This is a great way to try new things and keep your home workouts dynamic. Experiment with specific search terms, like “15-minute workout, no weights” or “10-minute workout with dumbbells”.

Optimize Your Environment

Staying fit at home is much more likely when you set up your environment for success. If possible, have a dedicated workout space, even if it’s just the corner of one room. Keep it clean, and have the right equipment ready and accessible. While an effective home workout can be done with nothing but your own body weight, there are a few basic items that can enhance your workouts. At a minimum, consider investing in a yoga mat, a kettle bell, a few weights, and a resistance band. 

Staying fit from home need not be complicated. Block it off on the calendar, plan the type of training you’ll do, set up your movement space, and you’re all set to maintain your fitness, no matter what.

Click here for more free resources on optimizing your health so you can feel strong and confident.

5 Steps to Stay Ready for Adventure

adventure

This post is about the 5 things I’m doing to stay ready for outdoor adventure, once the coast is clear. If you like this, stay in touch over on my Facebook community, Holistic Health for the Avid Adventurer, where I do free trainings on topics like this one. You can also follow me on Instagram @katiegerber_wellness and DM me anytime to say hi! If you’re interested in strategic 1-1 support, schedule a free call and we’ll see if we’re a good fit. I would love to work with you now or in the future! ~ Katie

Are you pretty much always dreaming of where you’ll go and what you’ll do when you can get into the outdoors again?

There’s nothing quite like the freedom of hiking through the wilderness, with the sun on your skin, the breeze in your hair, and open trail ahead.

Hiking around my local reservoir today, I got caught in a thunderstorm. I felt the temperature drop, the winds pick up, the goosebumps on my skin, and then the first few drops of rain pelting my face. It was fantastic. I felt alive. I felt the sense of OK-ness that I get when I’m in nature.

And it reminded me that I may not know when my next big outdoor adventure will be, but I have no doubt that it will happen again at some point. And when it does, I want to be ready to get out with confidence and enthusiasm. What about you?

Here are 5 steps I’m taking to stay prepared for adventure.

Gear Inventory

This includes:

  • cleaning up gear that’s been shoved to the back of the closet after my last trip
  • repairing gear
  • giving away or selling anything I no longer need or will use
  • testing gear that I want more practice with before I take it into the field
  • repairing gear, giving away or selling anything you don’t need, and testing gear you want more practice with.  

Research + Inspiration

I have a running document of hikes or trips that I would love to do at some point. A bucket list of sorts. When I’m thinking of planning a trip, like I am for this fall, I’ll look over this document, and I’ll highlight the ones that would be appropriate for the season and the length of time I have available. From there, I decide what my soul feels most called to, and then I dive into research. This keeps me motivated and inspired. Additionally, having a general plan in place allows me to be ready to execute on it and get out there if/when that’s possible. 

Food Inventory

This involves:

  • cleaning out expired backpacking food
  • taking an inventory of what’s left (I like spreadsheets for this!)
  • bulk cooking and dehydrating meals (I’m not the kind of person who enjoys this, but it’s a great activity to be doing if you are!)
  • potentially planning a resupply strategy if I have a specific trail in mind
  • creating a menu and determining what I still need to purchase for said resupply plan (Here’s a free ecourse on how to do all of this!)

Stay Connected to the Trail Community

Taking time away from the trail and my normal adventure buddies doesn’t have to mean being completely disconnected. Making an effort to connect virtually with trail friends keeps us inspired and reminds us that we’re not alone in our longings to get back outdoors. To me, this is essential for not falling into a hole of despair due to canceled plans and future uncertainty. There are a myraid of options, including subscribing to the newsletters of your favorite trail orgs or joining one of the hundreds of outdoors-related Facebook groups. Webinar meetings are a great way to see like-minded humans ‘face to face’ and nearly every organization is offering this new style of connecting and learning.

Get My Body in Tip Top Shape

I know from experience that I feel SO MUCH better when I hit the trail with my body already tuned in to good nutrition and regular movement. I have more energy, I can hike more miles more easily, and I’m less prone to overuse injuries. It makes my adventure more fun and increases the likelihood that I’ll be successful.

Having the structure, support, and accountability of a coach can massively accelerate progress towards health goals. Furthermore, focusing on your adventure as your motivation for training and eating helps you stick to it when you face (inevitable) challenges.

What else keeps your spirits up and your motivation high between adventures? Let me know in the comments!

CLICK HERE to access more free resources to help you get outside feeling strong and healthy for your next adventure!

Stress Eating: Why it Happens & How to Stop

stress eating tips

Hitting the pantry more often than normal these days?

If so, take solace in the fact that you’re definitely not alone. AND you’re completely (biologically) normal. Stress, anxiety, boredom, grief, and procrastination are just a few of the many reasons that we eat when we’re not physically hungry. Here are some practical tools to navigate emotional eating with more intention and ease. 

This post is not about telling you that emotional eating is ‘wrong’. As with anything, you decide what’s best for you. If this is a behavior you’re engaging in and it’s not serving you, here’s a compilation of tips that are supporting me and that I hope will also serve you. 

Why do we stress eat?

It’s not that you just ‘have no will power’. The fact is, we’re biologically wired to eat more when we’re under emotional duress. 

This article cites three science-backed reasons that underlie stress eating. To summarize, the first reason is that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (aka the fight or flight response). When the SNS is activated, we reach for quick hits of glucose (ie. sugary, snacky foods). The second reason is that the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control, doesn’t work as efficiently during stress. We’re, therefore, less able to resist the call of the pantry. The third reason we eat under stress is because when our brain senses danger, the threat response system within our brains is activated. Sugary and fatty foods can dampen this response and temporarily make us feel comforted. 

Fortunately, we can use the following strategies to coax the nervous systems back into parasympathetic (aka rest and digest) mode, so that we can make better decisions. Notice that these tactics are focused on reducing stress as opposed to taking a food-focused. This is a root cause approach. Go for the cause (stress), not the symptoms (overeating, snacking, emotional eating). These are taken directly from this post

Take a Breath

As soon as you find yourself with a craving, simply stop and take a few breaths:

  • Sit or lay comfortably with your back straight.
  • Place one hand over your stomach, just below the ribcage, and your other hand over your chest.
  • Inhale deeply for 3-8 seconds through the nostrils, directing all air to your belly. Only your stomach should lift or expand, not your chest.
  • Breathe out through your mouth for 3-8 seconds.
  • Repeat 3-10 times.

Get into Nature 

Just 20 minutes of exposure to nature has been shown to significantly lower stress hormone levels. Try to get out at least once a day, especially when you’re craving a snack. 

Engage in Meditation

Meditation being one of the most effective ways we can get ourselves out of stress mode and into a healthier physical state of being. 

Move Your Body to Reduce Food Cravings

Studies show that regular exercise helps reduce food cravings for up to a couple of hours even after you’ve finished exercising. It’s a bit of a double-whammy with exercise; it can help you reduce food cravings AND reduce your stress level with even short bouts of movement.

Additional tips to manage stress eating 

This post from Precision Nutrition offers the following 3 tips:

  1. Go ahead and overeat. The idea is to notice and track what is going on around the time you overeat (e.g. a long phone call with mom? A stressful work meeting? Going too long between meals? Alcohol?). This develops awareness around what triggers your overeating. It also removes the guilt and shame. If you’re “allowed” to overeat, it suddenly doesn’t feel so urgent, and perhaps you just have one or two cookies instead of the whole box. For more details on how to uncover your triggers, reference the full post. Once you’re aware of the trigger, decide what to do about it.
  1. Create a nourishment menu. This step provides tools to help when your triggers (see #1) are activated, and you want to break the trigger-response cycle. The idea is to ‘pick a thing (an action) to do before a thing (the stress eating). It’s called a nourishment menu because it contains options that nourish you in other ways, many of which we may be feeling deprived of right now (time in nature, movement, fresh air, sunlight, connection, etc.). Examples include: take 3 deep breaths, drink a big glass of water, mentally check for signs of physical hunger, play with your pet for 5 minutes, do some quick stretches, listen to a favorite song, go for a short walk, do some housework, journal). Think of non-food things that offer the sense of relief you were seeking from the food. To make it more likely you’ll do it, put your list on the fridge, and make your menu items as easy and quick to accomplish as possible.
  1. Take a self compassionate approach. This means an attitude of generosity, honesty, and kindness towards yourself. This tip helps you understand that your behavior around food doesn’t define you as a person. Right now, it makes sense that you may not be eating (or exercising, or working, or living) the way you normally do.

But feeling bad about being out of your routine could make stress eating even worse. So don’t beat yourself up. And don’t make “perfection” the goal. Self compassion is giving yourself a break, being honest and seeing the big picture, being kind to yourself. It’s not giving yourself a permanent ‘get out of jail free’ card, ignoring your problems, or letting yourself off the hook. 

And if you still decide to eat the snack, portion out the food you want into a bowl, sit down, and eat it mindfully.

A few more ideas

  • Guard your mind carefully. Reduce incoming stress-inducing media by turning off your TV, monitoring news consumption, and reducing social media use.
  • Start your day with a ritual and visualize yourself making health supporting choices. 
  • Eat whole meals which include fiber, fat, and protein to keep your blood sugar balance. Start the day with protein to avoid the tendency to overeat later. 
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand and easily accessible. If there’s a certain food you tend to overeat, don’t keep it in the house. 
  • Create a meal plan, including snacks, and stick to it.
  • Set up your work space away from the kitchen.

There’s a lot here. Pick one or two ideas to focus on for now. Keep what works and leave the rest. 

Rewiring our psychology around food is complex. It’s an ongoing practice. My own messed up relationship to food + my body goes way back, and yes, I still stress eat. But it helps to have tools. 

May we all be more gentle with ourselves.  

Related post:
Change your relationship to food & change everything. 

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Staying Healthy While Working from Home

Flexible schedule, no commute, cozy clothes. There’s no doubt that working from home has its perks. Conversely, remote work comes with its own set of challenges in regards to maintaining optimal wellness. Potential distractions from children or spouses, easy access to food, the allure of your La-Z-Boy, and the lack of clear boundaries between the office and home are all real concerns. 

The following tips can help you remain healthy, happy, and productive while working from home. 

Make Time for Mindfulness

Research indicates that a regular mindfulness practice increases subjective well-being, reduces emotional reactivity, and allows you to bring increased awareness to all that you do. To learn the technique, choose from myriad free apps, like Calm or Headspace. Schedule 10 minutes in the morning and consider regular meditation breaks throughout the day. 

Create Routines + Plan Ahead

Constant access to the kitchen can derail even the most health conscious individuals. Take time at the start of the week to plan healthy meals centered around whole foods. Include healthy fat, protein, and fiber at each meal to keep you satiated. Stick to regular meal times. Prepare healthy snacks in advance, so that if a snack attack does occur, it’s easier to make choices that support your health goals. Easy options include hard-boiled eggs, fruit, or veggie sticks with dips like hummus, guacamole, or nut butter. 

Setting a timer for work blocks and breaks is helpful for adding structure to your day. Additionally, keep a water bottle by your desk and give yourself a caffeine curfew (e.g. no later than noon).

Keep Moving

Moving your body throughout the day is essential to staying healthy while working from home. Schedule a dedicated exercise session in the morning or afternoon, and fit in mini-movement sessions to clear your mind and break up work blocks.

Alternate between periods of standing and sitting. If you don’t have a stand-up desk and now isn’t the right time to invest, consider fashioning one from stacked books or boxes. The goal is to get your elbows to a 90 degree angle with your keyboard.

Choose from the many free and paid resources online for the type of workout you’re seeking. Many gyms offer online workouts of all styles, including high intensity interval training, bootcamps, kettlebell workouts, and yoga. Alternatively, search Youtube for specific workouts. Having a kettlebell, a pull up bar, a resistance band, a few weights, and a yoga mat is helpful, but those aren’t necessary for a great workout. Body weight exercises and even a brisk walk can help you break a sweat. Get creative and get moving!

Optimize Your Home Environment

Maintain separate spaces for where you work, where you eat, where you exercise, and where you sleep. Working at the kitchen table, for instance, can make you more prone to snacking. Responding to work emails from your bed may cause sleep difficulties at night. To the extent possible, maintain spatial boundaries for different activities to keep your brain focused. If you’re struggling to tune out distractions, consider purchasing a pair of noise-canceling headphones.

With a bit of planning and intention, you can not only stay productive and calm while working from home, but you may even develop a new set of healthy habits that will serve you for the long run.

Related Posts

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How to Stay Consistent with Anything

How to Prepare for Big Physical Goals

Click here to download a free quick start guide to balanced blood sugar to banish cravings and achieve endless energy!

The Impact of Happiness on Health & How to Create More of It

backpacking lesson sunset

Can cultivating happiness actually make you healthier? 

According to well-established research on the connection between the mind and body, the answer is a resounding yes. Research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology indicates that our mood and life outlook has a significant impact on our physical health. Reduced happiness not only results from poor health, but is also a potential contributor to disease risk. 

The Impact of Happiness on Health

A positive outlook on life is associated with reduced mortality, enhanced immunity, and engaging in healthier lifestyle habits, like diet and exercise. In addition to a host of other benefits, people who report higher levels of happiness also slept deeper and showed lower levels of cortisol and inflammation. Being happy may also protect your heart, lengthen life expectancy, and reduce pain

Furthermore, research indicates that mood can impact the body’s ability to respond to viruses. In one study, older adults who reported greater mood disturbance (anger, fatigue, confusion) had poorer cytokine responses to live virus, whereas those who reported greater vigor and optimism had greater cytokine responses. 

How to Create a Happier Life

Happiness encompasses feelings of joy and pleasure, a sense of meaning and purpose in life, and life satisfaction. Here are 7 ways to increase happiness in your life: 

  • Connect with people you love. This could be a phone call, a text, or Facetime if connecting in person isn’t an option. 
  • Engage fully. Research by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly suggests that people report the greatest satisfaction when they are totally immersed in and concentrating on what they are doing.
  • Laugh more. Studies show that the more you laugh, the healthier you are. Intentionally surround yourself with whoever and whatever makes you laugh, whether that includes friends and family or funny cat videos on the internet.
  • Express gratitude. If you don’t already have one, start a gratitude journal and write down five specific things that you’re grateful for today. 
  • Serve someone. Be kind to someone. Share uplifting words. Volunteer. Taking care of others provides a sense of purpose and increases life satisfaction.
  • Know what won’t make you happy. Humans can be bad at judging what makes them happy. Research shows that money and material things, youth, and having children are common misconceptions in this category.

Identify what brings you true happiness and make time in your schedule for it. Prioritizing happiness may just be one of the best things you can do for your health!

Interested in a free guide to five anti-inflammatory foods to eat daily? Grab yours here.

How to Stay Grounded in Times of Uncertainty

grounded

A Blueprint for COVID-19

A global pandemic is enough to shake even the most grounded of us into fear, anxiety, and overwhelm. This is a perfectly human response and it’s important to acknowledge and to feel what we’re truly feeling. However, if we stagnate in those emotions, we decrease our immune function and squander our precious life energy.

In a nutshell, how this works is that our brains respond to fear by activating the sympathetic nervous system, which causes us to produce more adrenaline and cortisol. Over the short term this is fine, and even beneficial when escaping prey, but over time, it wreaks havoc in our bodies, decreases immune function, reduces mental clarity, and eventually leads to chronic illness.

The intention of this post is to provide practical strategies for finding your center during times of uncertainty. And really, all of life is uncertainty, so being adept at finding your footing is a worthy endeavor. 

Before we go any further, I want to speak to my privilege. I recognize the extent to which millions of people are suffering right now. I know that I’m fortunate to be in good health at the moment. I understand that I’m privileged to work from my laptop, from a safe space, and to have the resources to purchase food and supplies. 

This is not the case for others. This post is not meant to diminish or minimize anyone’s suffering. It’s intended to offer a path forward as we all manage our perfectly human responses of concern, worry, and fear amidst a sea of uncertainty and rapid change.

A Framework

Leaning into the stoic perspective can be particularly useful in times of massive upheaval. Stoics not only expect obstacles and uncertainty, they embrace them as a path to growth and freedom. The intention is to alchemize every experience, “positive” or “negative”, into lessons. These lessons can be used to live a more expressed version of your life, to unblock limiting beliefs, to dismantle unfounded fears. They can also be shared with others with the intention of easing the learning curve. 

That idea, along with a deep TRUST in reality and in myself is the foundation of what keeps me most grounded. I do as much as I can do to intelligently prepare for a situation, to mitigate risk, and then I trust that life will unfold as it’s meant to. I trust that the challenges I/we go through will ultimately be for the best, and I trust in our resilience.

If either, or both, of those perspectives serve you, feel free to put them on right now, as you would a cloak. From there, use the following strategies to further ground yourself in this time of turbulence. Generally, it helps if you go in order.

Accept What Is 

Resisting or being in denial of reality is a waste of energy and it does nothing to move you or the collective towards a solution space. We are living through an unprecedented health crisis. Recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We fear what we cannot control, and the unknown is something we cannot control.

When we’re in fear, we suffer because we want reality to be different from what it is. When we stop arguing with reality, we free ourselves, and we’re able to consciously choose how we wish to respond. 

Check In with Yourself

Ask yourself the following: “How am I doing right now? On a scale of 1-10, how do I feel?” Honor whatever comes up. Based on the first answer, ask “What’s the next best thing I can do to go from a 3 to a 4 (for example)? What’s the next small step?”

Give Yourself What You Need

Take the information you gleaned from the check-in and give yourself what you need. Maybe it’s a bath or to connect with a friend or to be in nature or to get in a workout or to paint. Whatever it is, give yourself what you need to create a sense of personal safety and ease. Don’t discount the impact of small practices. Acknowledging and taking care of your needs is essential to remaining grounded. A big piece of taking care of your needs will involve taking care of your physical body.

Nourish Your Body

There’s never been a better time than now to take care of your health. Physical health is the foundation of mental/emotional health. The basics (below) of taking care of your physical body by extension create a resilient immune system. Optimal health and resilience is something that’s built over time, through the combination of several practices. If you’re not already doing all you can to support your precious body, start now.

  • Reduce Stress (physical, emotional, mental). Meditation is a great tool.
  • Sleep, at least 7-8 hours nightly, if possible.
  • Eat fresh food to the extend that you can afford to do so.
  • Cut out sugar (a major immune suppressant!).
  • Get sunlight daily.
  • Move your body. Walk, do yoga, find YouTube workouts.
  • Breathe. In times of acute stress, start with 4-7-8 or box breathing.

Each of these could be a whole article in itself, but for now, just start and do your best.  These physical practices are something you CAN control right now and they’re a way to empower yourself. 

Create Stability Anchors

During times of uncertainty, it’s imperative to intentionally create practices that anchor you when the wild waters of change are pushing you to and fro. Stability anchors are anything that are consistent and reliable in your life and which create a sense of safety. The best stability anchor is internal and goes back to the “Framework” section, discussed above. From there, put external stability anchors in place, but know that anything external (which is susceptible to falling away) will never be quite as solid as internally generating a sense of groundedness and trust.

Routines can be indispensable in this category. If you’ve been knocked out of your normal routine, do your best to establish a new one and stick with it. Stability anchors can also include safe housing, regular phone calls with loved ones, a daily morning walk, an evening wind down ritual, or a healthy meal plan.

Protect Your Mental Space

Think of your mind and what goes in it similarly to how you think of your body and the food you eat. If you allow junk into your mind, it will have a direct impact on your clarity, focus, and emotional state. Be cognizant of what you’re putting into your brain. This includes anything you read, watch, listen to, and who you converse with. Choose wisely when it comes to news sources, podcasts, social media accounts you follow, and the company you keep. It’s all influencing you. 

On that note, be mindful of how much time you spend taking in outside sources of information. Be informed, but be aware of at which point you’re no longer gathering information and you’re just feeding the reptilian (fear-based) brain.

Personally, before consuming content, which pushes me into reaction mode, I prefer to make the most of my cognitive fuel by focusing on my own creative work and my intentions for how I want to feel. This requires solitude, or at the very least, closing off the fire hose of incoming information. Turning off notifications, leaving your phone on Do Not Disturb and giving yourself time limits on social apps can work wonders for this. On Instagram, do this from your profile page by going to the three lines in the upper right corner > Settings > Your Activity > Set Daily Reminder. 

Articulate the Silver Lining

I believe hope and optimism are powerful forces, especially in crisis. I’m not referring to blind positivity. I’m speaking to the importance of seeing a potential upside to a situation, so that you don’t get bogged down in the heaviness.

Yes, this situation is real and it’s having massive impacts on every single one of our lives. And while being informed is essential (we’ll get to that next), it’s important not to focus solely on the bad. That’s what our brains will naturally do as a primal protection mechanism, but that often leads to a negative spiral and paralysis. Again, sitting in that fear state does not serve you or those around you. When you operate from a place of emotional strength and calmness, it has a powerful effect on others.

So, can you take the 30,000’ view and find a silver lining? Start close in. What can you be grateful for at this moment? You’re alive. You have the resources to be reading this. Your list may also include having a roof over your head, being given the chance to slow down and focus on your health, having more time to spend with family, having space to work on art or other creative projects. Next, move out to a larger scale. Is there beauty to be witnessed? Are there lessons to be gleaned? Perhaps this includes awakened compassion, taking care of each other, generosity, increased resilience, the connection found in shared hardship, and the creativity that comes out of necessity and restriction.

Educate Yourself

Stay informed. Investigate. Assess the risks and focus on actionable problem-solving strategies you can employ.

Part of staying grounded is knowing the reality of a situation. It’s not burying your head in the sand and being in denial. Without an accurate assessment of the situation, the mind will create stories. Get your information from reliable sources and take the precautions necessary.

Personally, I think it’s preferable to potentially overreact and to do what I can to be part of the solution than to under react completely and know that I could’ve done more.

In this instance, know the signs of infection, know how to prevent infection, and know what to do if you or a loved one gets infected (ie. have a  plan, which we’ll cover next). There are plenty of resources covering those topics, so I won’t detail them.  Start here.

Here are some further resources to help, both for your own education and for further re-sharing:

  • Coronavirus stats – This page shows frequently updated virus stats for all countries, so you can see at a glance what’s happening. Also follow some of the links for deeper stats and data.
  • Stay the Fuck Home – This is a good page for referring people. It shows simple actions to be taken immediately and handle multiple translations for different languages.
  • Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now – Tomas Pueyo’s powerfully persuasive piece with lots of math-based reasoning, charts, and graphs (more than 28M views in the past week). 
  • Jason Warner’s Facebook post – A solid math-based post to help persuade people of the importance of changing behaviors immediately.  
  • Messages from Italy – This is a short YouTube video of Italians under lockdown sharing what they wished they’d known 10 days earlier.

Have a Plan & Take Action

Action dissolves overwhelm. It feels better to do something than to feel like you’re simply responding to whatever happens. Knowing how you’ll respond in a worst case scenario further dissolves anxiety. As they say: Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

Do your best to prepare and to mitigate risk. The following list was taken from this excellent article.

  • Slowly start to stock up on enough non-perishable food to last your household through several weeks of social distancing at home during an intense wave of transmission in their community.
  • Think through, now, how you will take care of sick family members while trying not to get infected by them.
    • If you have loved ones in an aged care facility, ask the facility about its plans for keeping their residents safe from flu (a similar situation) and whether they have thought about what they will do if SARS-CoV-2 is spreading widely.
    • Check that your parents and grandparents have prepared a Will and have considered an Enduring Power of Attorney in case they are unable to make care-based decisions for themselves.
  • Think through how you will take care of dependents if you are sick yourself.
  • Make plans for childcare when you are sick, or when your child is sick.
  • And of course: Take measures to not get sick (truthfully, these are actually measures to « get sick as late as possible »)
    • Practice touching our faces less. Right now, today, start practicing not touching your face when you are out and about!  You probably won’t be able to do it perfectly, but you can greatly reduce the frequency of potential self-inoculation. You can even institute a buddy system, where friends and colleagues are asked to remind each other when someone scratches her eyelid or rubs his nose.
    • Replace handshakes with elbow-bumps (the “Ebola handshake”). 
    • Start building harm-reduction habits like pushing elevator buttons with a knuckle instead of a fingertip.
    • Build your immune system now. Get your vitamins, eat your vegetables, go for a walk barefoot in the sun.

Other ways to take action: 

  • Share the above message in the hopes of informing anyone who may not be taking the necessary precautions; this literally saves lives.
  • Serve someone. Is there someone you can help with your words? 
  • If you can afford to do so, continue to support your local economy.
  • Learn something new.
  • Connect: call/text/facetime the people you love.
  • Move your body.
  • Create something beautiful and share it.

Take It Day by Day

Trust. Know that humans are resilient. You’re resilient. We’ve been through crisis before and we’ll get through this. Yes, there have been lives lost and many more will be lost. All you can do is control what you can control and let go of the rest.

Things are changing rapidly. Step outside and ground into nature. Stay fluid and flexible. Allow yourself to feel it and then come back to your center.

Practice

We become what we continually practice. 

Cultivating inner strength and resilience is a process, not a destination. You will falter. You will spin out from time to time. That’s okay. That’s our humanity and it’s beautiful. Let it happen when it happens. And when you’re ready, breathe, and return to the practices in this blueprint. Return to your center.

Download all of our free holistic health resources here.

How Nature Immersion Improves Physical + Mental Health

This post originally appeared here on The Trek.

Why does being in nature feel so good? I considered this question a lot after I finished thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) last autumn, as I rapidly slipped into a state of apathy, and, concurrently, watched my glowing post-trail health decline. For those of us who spend hours wandering the outdoors, we’re intimately aware of how nature immersion improves physical and mental health. Now there’s a growing body of research to support what we’ve intuitively known. 

Humans Evolved Outdoors

We have an innate connection to the Earth. We’ve known this for a long time. Do you find comfort in the sound of rustling leaves, the feeling of the breeze against your cheek, and the sight of sunlight filtering through the trees? I imagine there are few humans who don’t. Nature is where we evolved and it’s our place of respite.

Biophilia (love of life and the living world) is a concept made popular by American biologist E.O. Wilson in 1984. He believed that because we (humans) evolved in nature, we have a biological need to connect with it. We love nature because we learned to love the things that helped us survive. We feel comfortable in nature because that is where we have lived for most of our time on earth. 

“And this affinity for the natural world is fundamental to our health. (It’s) as vital to our well-being as regular exercise and a healthy diet. Just as our health improves when we are in it, so our health suffers when we are divorced from it.” E.O. Wilson

An Urban Species

We have increasingly become an urban species, spending around 90% of our time indoors, with an average of about 11 hours per day on our devices. According to research in the book Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing Li, this has resulted in anxiety, headaches, depression, mental fatigue, eye strain, insomnia, frustration, irritability, and reduced quality of life. 

By 2050, about 75% of the world’s projected 9 billion people will live in cities. The stress associated with living in cities is causing a lot of sickness, including more heart attacks, strokes, cancer, anxiety, and depression. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls stress the health epidemic of the 21st century

The Benefits of Nature Immersion

growing body of data suggests that connection to nature impacts the following health parameters:

  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Diminished pain
  • Improved cardiovascular and metabolic health
  • Improved concentration and memory
  • Reduced depression
  • Improved pain thresholds
  • Improved energy
  • Improved immune function (an increase in the count of the body’s natural killer (NK) cells)
  • Increased anticancer protein production

Nervous System Regulation + Stress Reduction

Of particular importance is the effect that nature immersion has on the nervous system. The nervous system is responsible for the stress response. Increasingly, people are spending more time stuck in the sympathetic (fight or flight) mode of the autonomic nervous system, and consequently, less time in the parasympathetic (rest and repair) mode. Sympathetic overactivity is related to several diseases, particularly many of the chronic diseases that are so prevalent today. For that reason, shifting our nervous systems into sympathetic mode as often as possible is imperative for long-term health. While there are many natural approaches to lowering stress, nature immersion is free and backed by science. 

Research shows that forest bathing, the practice of walking in the forest, lowers the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline; suppresses the sympathetic system; enhances the parasympathetic system; lowers blood pressure, and increases heart-rate variability. 

How the Wilderness Improves Health

How exactly is nature immersion improving our health? Based on research cited in Forest Bathing, there are several mechanisms of action, including the reduction in screen time and noise pollution, cleaner air, and the soothing sight of the fractal patterns of nature. Additionally, there are two powerful health enhancers found in forests. These are phytonides and a specific class of microbes.

Phytonides

Forests not only have a higher concentration of oxygen, but the air is full of phytonides. Phytonides are the natural oils within a plant that are part of a tree’s defense system. Phytonides protect plants from bacteria, insects, and fungi. Evergreens like pine trees, cedars, spruces, and conifers are the largest producers of phytonides. The main components of phytoncides are terpenes. These are all those scents you smell as you hike through the forest. The major terpenes are: D-limonene, alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, and camphene.

Phytoncides increase NK cells and NK activity, enhance activity of anticancer proteins, decrease levels of stress hormones, increase hours of sleep, decrease scores for tension, stimulate pleasant mood, lower blood pressure and heart rate, increase heart-rate variability, suppress sympathetic activity and increase parasympathetic activity. 

Microbes

When we walk outdoors we breathe in mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria from the soil. This bacteria boosts the immune system and a boosted immune system makes us happier. 

Connect Through All Five Senses

nature immersion

Research cited by Dr. Li suggests that the greatest health benefits come from connecting to nature via all five senses (that’s right: hearing, sight, smell, sound, and touch). For example, natural silence, and the sight of the natural fractal patterns of nature reduce stress by as much as 60%. In terms of smell, researchers found that there are a few factors associated with forest bathing, which increase mental clarity and our sense of well-being. These include phytoncides and M. vaccae (discussed above), and the presences of negative ions in the air. In terms of touch, grounding (skin to earth contact) maintains the flow of electromagnetic energy between your body and the natural world. Grounding reduces pain, boosts immunity, and decreases inflammation. Regarding taste, there are the many nutritional benefits of truly wild foods, though you must be educated and careful while experimenting. 

Minimum Effective Dose

nature immersion

A study in Nature, which included 20,000 participants, indicated that 120 minutes a week in nature is significantly associated with good health and well-being. It didn’t matter whether that time was in one long session or several shorter sessions per week. Furthermore, the results applied across different ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, genders, and levels of baseline health. 

How to Get Started

You likely don’t need me to tell you how to immerse yourself in nature. However, review this basic outline to ensure you get the most health benefits from your time in the wilderness.

  1. Find a spot in nature. The farther away from city noise, the better, but if a city park is your only option, that will do.
  2. Engage your five senses. Doing so pulls you out of your incessant thoughts and drops you into your present surroundings. 
  3. Sit in one spot or walk at a steady meandering pace. The goal is not necessarily to get in a workout or even to get anywhere. This mindset shift may be the most challenging part for those of us accustomed to hiking long trails.
  4. Complete this practice for a minimum of 120 minutes per week.

That’s it! You’re now getting all those research-backed benefits of nature immersion. To dig deeper into this topic, start with this article, and then move on to Forest Bathing by Dr. Qing LiThe Nature Fix, and Ecopsychology. For bonus points, sit on the ground, in the sun, while you read.

Plan a Retreat for Greater Freedom, Clarity, and Effectiveness

adventure ready

A retreat is simple and effective way to get perspective on your life, release limiting patterns, and return refreshed and more free to show up as a better version of yourself.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” For those of us with busy schedules and a pile of projects we’d like to tackle, this oft-cited phrase is an important reminder to pause and refill ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

While attending a wellness retreat in an exotic location can be a wonderful reset, this isn’t always an option, logistically or financially, nor is it a necessity in order to have a rejuvenating break from your normal routine. 

The benefits of intentionally setting aside time to ‘unplug’ are myriad. Primarily, this includes the opportunity to break free from patterns and routines that don’t serve you, a reduction in cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’), decreased depression, improved sense of well being, as well as increased focus and clarity. Essentially, you return to your normal life more fully present and ready to be better at everything, from your training to your career to your relationships.

Use the following simple outline to create a retreat that leaves you rested, nourished, and clear-headed.

Define Your Goal

What is the primary outcome you’d like to receive from your retreat? Will it be devoted to health, wellness, and self care? Is there a certain creative project you’d like to make progress on? Would you like this to be a time for deepening your spiritual practice? Take a moment to envision how you’d like to feel at the end of your retreat. Select your top objectives and set your intention.

Choose the Date and Location

An at-home retreat is affordable and keeps planning simple. However, if you’re unable to hold your retreat at home, or if you prefer not to, book a small cabin nearby to keep logistics easy. Set aside an entire weekend, from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, if possible.

Send Invites (optional)

If your retreat vision includes others, invite a few close friends. Depending on your focus, intimate companions and deep discussion can facilitate growth and expansion for everyone. Let the potential attendees know your intention and expectations as well as event details, like dates, location, and what they should bring.

Clear Your Calendar

Call the babysitter (or dogsitter). Tell friends and family your plans and that they shouldn’t expect to reach you during this time. Delegate any tasks that need handled while you’re away. During the retreat, turn off your phone and resist the temptation to check email. Let this be a sacred time for you to truly reconnect with yourself. 

Plan Activities & Meals

Design a general outline for your days. Consider these ideas: include some form of physical activity, like morning yoga and a hike in nature; read a book (spiritual or personal development are good options); set aside time for meditation; indulge in your favorite self care, like baths, massage, journal time, or other creative pursuits. Plan a few simple, healthy meals, and gather your ingredients.

Process & Integrate

Before wrapping up your retreat, reflect on your weekend. Did you have any insights or mindset shifts that you’d like to carry back into your daily routine? Jot these down and make a plan for how you will include them in your life, post-retreat. 

With a bit of planning, you can enjoy the well-deserved benefits of a retreat without the hassle or expense of going to a far off location!

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