And I don’t know about you, but I am more than a little relieved that the holidays are over. I love Thanksgiving, Christmas, my husband’s birthday (Dec. 30th), and New Years, but all those exciting times mashed into two months makes for a VERY BUSY two months! I feel like my life has been a whirlwind of activity… and my day-planner is just as exhausted as I am!
Throughout all the craziness, I have been thinking about some goals for the new year (yes, I am one of those people who makes “New Years Resolutions” each January). Several of them involve health and fitness, so I have decided to share those with you.
I actually thought about this a ton in 2011 (wow- seems like such a long time ago now!). Have you read Chapter Eight from Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution? It is the best chapter in the entire book, and it is all about stress and cortisol. It formed the basis, or the foundation, of my “stress less” goal. It made me realize [again] how insane we make our lives.
Seriously, our current reality makes up the busiest time in the history of the world. When we are not working 40-60+ hours each week, we are running back and forth between various activities and social obligations, cell phones in hand.
So yeah… our lives are busy, and our brains are always on the move. Sometimes it is difficult to “settle down” because we are so accustomed to a blur of activity.e are no dull moments, because Facebook must be checked/updated, tweets must be tweeted, texts need responses, and phone calls must be made. It has gotten so bad that some people cannot even complete full conversations without looking down at their smartphones (this drives me absolutely insane).
However, things have not always been this way! If you look back just a few hundred years, you will quickly notice that life was slower… people were more relaxed… things were simpler. If you look back even further, you will see that the ultimate goal in life was to support family life (by bringing in food, preparing food, maintaining shelter, resting, and enjoying time together). I agree with Robb Wolf… this is how we were wired to live! The craziness of our lives today is exhausting, it is stressful, and it is killing us.
To quote Robb Wolf, “When you are subjected to stress, particularly chronic stress, your body releases cortisol much more frequently than it should. This gets ugly when cortisol is not only high in the morning, but all day long, even at bedtime. The consequences can be dire, as the more stressed we get, the worse our ability to deal with stress becomes. It is a nasty snowball effect that is called a “feed forward” mechanism in biology. Abnormally elevated cortisol begins to disturb sleep, which makes us more prone to daily stress, which raises cortisol. The consequences of this downward sprial include suppressed immune function, chronically elevated blood sugar levels, decreased insulin sensitivity, impaired ability to form long-term memory, and decreased sex drive and libido. Yes folks, cortisol is a big deal.”
Aside from the health effects of a high-stress life, less stress would just make life more enjoyable!
My happiest days are the ones where I don’t have anything pressing to do. My husband is off work every Wednesday (because he works every Saturday), and we look so forward to just being still! We usually sleep late, make a big brunch, relax, do things we enjoy (blog, read, etc.), take a walk, maybe catch a nap, etc. It is wonderful, and I want more of my life to look like this! Stress is nearly non-existent on Wednesdays.
So how can we have less stress in our lives? Well, here are some of my thoughts, and some of my practical goals for 2012…
1. Sleep more.
Quoting Robb Wolf again, “Just one night of missed or inadequate sleep is sufficient to make you as insulin resistant as a type 2 diabetic. Think about how crappy you feel when you miss sleep. That’s how much fun it is to be a type 2 diabetic all the time! When you neglect sleep or have poor sleep quality, this registers as a significant stressor to your body. It makes you immune-compromised, chubby, forgetful, and crazy.” Wow! Sadly, I can definitely relate to that!
How do you know how much sleep you need? Well, 8-9 hours is usually just right. But to know for sure, the right amount is whenever you wake up without the nagging of an alarm clock. Personally, I have not experienced this on a regular basis. If I do not set an al
arm, I will sleep until 12:30 (as I did today… it’s Wednesday!). But, I also stayed up until after midnight last night.
So my sleep-goal for 2012 (starting tonight!) is to go to bed at a decent time, and sleep for 9 hours each night. I have already taken the steps to make our bedroom pitch-black with the lights turned off, and that has definitely helped the quality of my sleep. I’ll post more on this later… but just go read Robb’s chapter ASAP for more details!
2. Work less.
When I think about the things I really enjoy… the things that bring peace and tranquility to my life… WORK does not make the list. One of our personal goals for 2012 is to become debt-free. We are really close to this goal, and should complete it by May! When this happens, our schedules will loosen up alot. And while it might be tempting to keep our crazy schedules so that we can fill our lives with more “stuff,” we have to realize that “stuff” is not important! When I look back on the nine years we have been married, I remember our time spent together… I do not remember the “stuff” we had at any given time. So why would we work our lives away, and sacrifice more time together, so that we can have more meaningless stuff? Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that shopping, buying new clothes and “toys,” and accumulating things we like is definitely FUN at the moment, but does FUN = meaningfulness? Nope.
The final section of Robb Wolf’s eighth chapter goes into detail about this. I particularly enjoyed this part: “If you are attached to a bunch of crap that requires you to work ungodly hours to pay for it, you are missing something. I also know people who LOVE to work. They do not have an off switch, and just love to go. If this is you, and you’re happy, fulfilled, and satisfied, great. You are a rare breed indeed. I’m not a guru, and I have no special knowledge, but I have seen alot of people benefit from assessing what is important in their lives, and making changes to support happiness. It’s hard to do. We can make excuses about obligations and kids and all kinds of stuff. I don’t know what the right answer is for you, but if you have weight or health issues, work yourself to death, have a closet full of clothes you never wear and a house full of crap you never use, then maybe you need to do some thinking about how you approach life.”
My husband and I worked on this alot in 2011. We sold our home and moved into a cheap place that we can easily afford. It’s not super-nice, but it’s our home, and we love it because we both live here! We have scaled our budget down to the minimum (no cable, no texting or data on our cell pla
Decide what is important to you, and chase that!n, no car payments, etc.) so that we can meet our goal of being debt-free and working less.
3. Choose to Chill.
Do you realize how many times each day you ALLOW yourself to be stressed? Sometimes it’s okay to just say “you know what? I just don’t care.” If you can’t change it, don’t stress about it! For example, lately I have gotten behind the SLOWEST cars on the road. I don’t know why, other than that my commitment to this goal is being tested. Instead of stressing out, gripping the wheel, and waiting for the broken yellow line so I can pass, I’m trying to just relax…. turn on some good music… and enjoy the ride. I can’t blast that car off the road (though sometimes I would like to do just that!), so why stress about it?
If you can’t change it, find a way to enjoy it.
If we could adopt this principle in our lives, we would have so few opportunities for stress!
As I mentioned before, Wednesdays are our relaxation days. However, my goal for 2012 is have more than just one relaxation days! Around mid-2011, Dustin and I decided that our weeks had become too crazy (we had commitments at least 5 out of 7 evenings each week!). We have tried very hard to stick to this new “routine” for our evenings each week: Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays are HOME NIGHTS. Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays are open for hanging out with people (though we don’t always use all three evenings). Wednesdays are DATE NIGHTS. Keeping this schedule has made life much more relaxing!
Our goal for 2012 is to maintain this routine, and, as mentioned above, to work less so that we have more relaxation-time together.
5. Eat Well.
I don’t just mean eating the right things… Personally, I think Dustin and I tackled that goal in 2011! Other than doing a Whole30 every 6 months, and working in a Sugar Detox every now and then, I am very happy with our nutritional status.
What I mean by “eat well” is to do a better job of actually eating. I was listening to Chris Kresser on the Balanced Bites podcast earlier this week, and I loved what he and Diane had to say about the role of stress in digestion. Did you know that you digest and absorb your food most effectively when you are less stressed? Listen to the podcast for more details! It is excellent.
Here are two ways that I plan to implement this goal:
*Less eating on-the-go. We make our lives so fast-paced that we sometimes have to take our food in the car with us! Starting tomorrow, we will be waking up in time to SIT DOWN AND EAT breakfast together. We are going to make more efforts to SIT DOWN AND EAT lunch while we’re at work. And when it’s dinner time, we are going to SIT DOWN AND EAT together, or with others, without our computers, our phones, or a movie. Did you know that food is better digested when you allow yourself to sit still, undistracted, and actually CHEW it without allowing your mind to wander a billion other places?
*Enjoy meal-times! I already love eating, but I can imagine that meal times would be so much more enjoyable if we allowed them to be restful, peaceful parts of our day. Just sitting across the table from people you love, enjoying good food, and participating in good conversation is almost an endangered ritual these days (unless you are at a restaurant that does not have TV’s- and even then people are on their phones, or just looking all around!). Let meal-time be meal-time!
Again, go listen to that podcast, and get inspired!
One More Thought…
Think about it… your life is made up of choices. The way you live is up to you! If you choose to work your life away and pour on the stress to obtain more stuff, that is your CHOICE. No one is forcing you to do it. Just wanted to give you that reminder… maybe it will empower you to make different choices, even if they require sacrifices, so that you can enjoy what (or who) is most important to you.
What About You?
I would love to hear your personal health goals for 2012!
Please comment below.