Ways to De-Stress Before Bed to Ensure a Good Night’s Sleep

You experience varying degrees of stress all the time. And getting enough sleep is a great way to cope with that stress. When you wake up feeling recharged and alert, you are better able to handle the demands of work, home, and life. 

But what if your daily stress is keeping you from getting the restorative shut-eye you need? Too much tension and anxiety can affect your body and disrupt your sleep in several ways. That’s because the stress you experience during the day doesn’t end the minute your head hits the pillow. Your body produces stress hormones, which can linger in your body and stimulate it well into the night.

Here are a few scenarios you might experience:

• Your mind is racing, making it hard to fall asleep.

• You remain in a light sleep, rather than reaching deep sleep.

• You wake up often, finding it hard to stay asleep.

How to Wind Down Before Bedtime

The good news is that you can overcome sleeplessness by learning a few easy relaxation skills you can do before bed. You can even do some of these techniques should you wake up in the middle of the night and need help falling back asleep. Not only do these skills help you ward off daily stress responses and improve the quality of your sleep, they may also reduce your need for sleep medications. Ensure a good night’s sleep with these relaxation skills.

• Take a deep breath: One of the easiest ways to manage stress and anxiety is to simply breathe deeply. This technique goes by a few names: diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, or belly breathing. It may seem like a new skill you have to learn, but it’s really your body’s natural way of breathing. By taking slow, deep breaths, you inhale more oxygen and exhale more carbon dioxide (CO2). The benefit: a slower heart rate and lower blood pressure. Just 10 minutes of deep breathing is all you need to help your body relax before you hit the hay.

• Brew a cup of evening tea: Hot or iced, sipping a cup of tea in the evening makes for a calming and refreshing bedtime ritual. As it becomes a habit, the familiar act of sipping your evening tea can signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down for the night. There are many soothing and delicious teas out there, like Yogi Bedtime Tea and Teavana Lavender Dreams White Tea. Just be sure to drink it at least an hour before you turn in, so you don’t find yourself getting up to use the bathroom multiple times in the night.

• Perform Shavasana: There’s a good reason many yoga sequences end with a 5-minute Shavasana—this basic move can help you calm your mind and lower your heart rate after a good workout. But you don’t have to attend a yoga class to reap the benefits of the pose. You can practice this “deeply quiet posture” before bedtime to release the day’s stress and tension. All you have to do is lie back on a comfortable surface, close your eyes, focus on finding any tension in your mind and body, and then let it go. Experience total relaxation with these step-by-step Shavasana instructions.

• Go for a stroll: It’s hard to find the energy to exercise when you’re exhausted, but maintaining your fitness can help you sleep better and restore your energy. If you’re feeling too depleted for a full workout, go for a 10-minute stroll after dinner with your spouse, kids, and/or dog. Keep your pace slower than normal; the idea isn’t to get your heart rate up but to release pent-up emotions from the day. This is also a great time to practice a little mindfulness, taking in the scenery, sounds, smells around you.

• Create positive mental imagery: As the saying goes, what goes up must come down—and that’s as true of gravity as it is your stress level. Negative thoughts can boost your stress response, while positive thoughts can help you keep it at bay. Lowering your stress levels as you get ready for bed can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep—and that’s where positive mental imagery comes in. Give it a try: Picture yourself someplace that feels peaceful and serene to you. Perhaps it’s a footpath winding through a lush forest, a quiet beach on a tropical shoreline, or a horizon lined with awe-inspiring red rock formations. This kind of visualization can encourage your mind to relax. And who knows, you may find yourself being whisked away to those very places in your dreams.

• Drift off with binaural beats: Listening to soothing music is a nice way to go to sleep, but any tunes with lyrics can be distracting and keep your mind busy. Want to try something new and different? The relaxing rhythm and repetition of binaural beats may be just what you need to turn off your mind at night. While the beats themselves may not lull you to sleep, listening to them could help you to feel less stressed and anxious, leading to a more restful slumber. Tune into this free playlist and find out if binaural beats work for you.

Snooze the Night Away

How do you like to unwind before bed? Can you think of other relaxation skills you’d like to try? Let us know how you’ll make relaxation and better-quality sleep part of your healthy lifestyle.

6 Ways to De-Stress After Work

The American Psychological Association (APA) publishes an annual Stress in America report that provides a snapshot of the stressors facing us today. In their 2016 report, 58 percent of people surveyed cited ‘work’ as a main stressor. We’re expected to put work before everything else, answer emails at 10 pm, show up when we’re ill, and perform at our absolute best at all times. 

But, let’s be honest, your work week isn’t just a work week. You might have kids playing sports, or meetings for the board you sit on, or the car needs an oil change. There’s always something that comes up. The following scenario is all too common: Wake up late, rush out without eating breakfast, pick up something quick and easy for lunch, stay at work late, hit traffic on the way home, realize there’s nothing in the fridge, order take out and watch Netflix. Rinse and repeat. So, not only is our work day stressing us out, but our lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and limited exercise adding to our current mental state. 

We’ve heard this before…stress raises our cortisol levels and when our cortisol is constantly elevated, it puts us at risk for myriad health concerns. So, with the state of our stress not getting any better and the state of workplace health culture very slowly improving, what are some ways we can mitigate the impact of stress on our mental and physical well-being? Not only do we want to minimize stress as it’s happening, but we want to be proactive in combating it before it takes over. 

Here are the top 6 ways: 

1. Meal prep: This is a great #1, go-to way of making sure you’re set up for success during the workweek. It’s a triple whammy: meal prepping means you won’t stress about having to cook each night, you won’t have to spend money eating out, and you won’t have to stress about spending money and eating out! Do yourself a favor and spend 3 hours meal prepping once per week. Enlist your spouse and kids to make it a family activity! The internet is overflowing with resources, recipes, and hacks for making meal prep a pain-free process. It really can be a simple, pain-free process! You’ll be so happy when you’re driving home from work to know that it’s already taken care of.

2. 10 minute walk: Taking a walk when you get home from work can help in more ways than one. First, walking (or any type of exercise) boosts endorphins which in turn can reduce our stress hormones. This also gets us out of the house which is great for those of us that tend to binge-snack as soon as we walk thru the door. Bonus points for finding a path that has a lot of greenery which can help put us in a sort of meditative state calming both our body and our mind.  

3. Eat a snack: Wait, didn’t we just say to go for a walk instead? What we mean is to avoid stress-eating…if you typically want to reach for the ice cream after a stressful day, eating a nourishing snack can help. Pick some healthy fats and protein like a handful of nuts or a hard-boiled egg to hold you over until dinner. This will keep you from eating your way through the house before you’ve even finished cooking.

4. Put on some music: Music that you love can flood your brain with feel-good chemicals like dopamine. When you know you have an especially long commute home, find your favorite tunes for an easy way to reduce anxiety levels. Extra points for throwing in some dance moves.

5. Put the phone down: Yep, our phones are stressing us out like never before. Placing our phone in the other room allows us to be more present with our significant others and/or our kids (human interaction can reduce cortisol levels). It also keeps us from checking email after hours, and limiting screen time after dark will help you fall asleep faster and have a more restful night of sleep (you guessed it, lowering those stress levels).

6. Finally, “treat yo’ self”: Do something JUST FOR YOU. Take a warm bath, read one chapter of a book, have a glass of wine, enjoy a piece of dark chocolate. Do all of them at once! Whatever makes you feel happy and relaxed. It will go a long, long way in improving your overall health and well-being.

The goal here is to find ways that both help you relax in the moment as well as take a proactive approach to managing stress. Think out what part(s) of your day cause you the most worry and then figure out one (healthy) tool, task, or action that can help minimize that stressor. If sitting in traffic to get to the gym after work makes you want to pull your hair out, try going in the morning when traffic is lighter. Whatever it might be, pick just one thing to start with and see how it goes. What ways have you found to help reduce stress? Share them with us! 

Libby Landry
Libby Landry, founder of Simple Wellness Co. is passionate about helping small business owners build a culture of health and wellness in their workplace. “My philosophy on health is to keep it simple (hence, the name!). Health and wellness shouldn’t be some mysterious, unattainable place…we can all get there with small adjustments in our everyday life. Yes, it really can be that simple.”

8 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Mood

Are you struggling to snap out of a funk? Whether you’re a little grumpy or you’re in an all around bad mood, you don’t have to spend the rest of your day wallowing. Need a few ideas for turning that frown upside down? Here are 8 ways you can instantly improve your mood.

1. Tidy Up Your Spaces

When your spaces are too cluttered, it can have an effect on your mental state. Juggling hectic schedules and constant deadlines means something else has to give, like organization. It’s easier to let things pile up around you when keeping a clutter free zone isn’t your priority. So start with just one thing you would like to tidy up, such as your office cubicle, the laundry room, or the trunk of your car. Set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes and focus on cleaning whatever you can for that amount of time. If you’ve got more time, rummage through your closets and then donate any clothes your family doesn’t wear. Or go through the pantry and donate any food that is no longer part of your healthy lifestyle!

2. Take a Nap

Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or maybe you didn’t get enough deep, restful sleep (which is the more likely culprit of your bad mood). Feeling tired can make it that much harder to meet deadlines, be creative, or enjoy time with your family. Kick back for a 20-minute power nap to feel more refreshed and able to take on the rest of your day. Just keep in mind that naps are not a substitute for getting good quality sleep every night.

3. Write It Out

Is your mind’s playlist loaded with worries and stuck on repeat? A quick way to fix that broken record is to get all of those thoughts out of your head. Grab a notepad and organize a master to-do list, then break it down into smaller, more manageable lists. Kick start a project by doing 15 – 20 minutes of research, which can also get the creative ideas flowing. Or try journaling to put any worries or anxieties onto paper. Sometimes seeing them in writing can take a weight off your shoulders and leave you with more energy to take on the rest of the day.

4. Play a Word Game

If you love Scrabble, give Words with Friends a try. It’s a free virtual word game you can download to your smartphone and play to test your skills. Plus, feeling that Triple Word Score victory will definitely have you grinning ear to ear! You can work also in a little brain fitness. Just like your body, your mind needs a regular workout, too. Playing strategy games is an effective way to challenge your brain and keep it smart as you age.

5. Spend Time with Others

Are you communicating more and more by text, instant message, and email? Having real conversations can be a real mood booster. Meet a friend for coffee, or if you just can’t get away from your desk, call each other on Skype and switch on your web cameras for a virtual coffee chat. Go on a hike with your family and talk about what’s happening in each other’s lives. Or walk to a co-workers desk next time you have a question that can be answered with a quick chat.

6. Pump Up The Jams

Turn up the tunes you loved as a teenager (hello, Duran Duran!) and dance like it’s 1985. Not only is it fun, but also moving freely to high-energy music can liberate you from your bad mood. That’s because like running, dancing releases feel-good endorphins that can curb stress and anxiety. Don’t want to dance alone? Join a social fitness class like Zumba or Jazzercise and follow along to the beat.

7. Doing Something Nice for Someone Else

Performing a random act of kindness can go a long way for making your day—and someone else’s. Next time you’re in line at the coffee shop, you could show a “pay it forward” act of kindness by buying the drink of the person behind you. Who doesn’t love a surprise freebie? You could also leave sticky notes on your kids’ bathroom mirror and start their day with an inspirational message. Or you could offer a simple gesture, like giving someone a smile as you pass by. Chances are, they’ll smile back! It’s win-win.

8. Move Your Body

Being physically active is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. But you don’t have to squeeze in a midday workout to reap the mood-boosting benefits of exercise. Just going for a 10-minute stroll by yourself or with a walking partner can get you on the path to feeling happier—and help you work toward your daily goal of 10,000 steps. Is your day packed with meetings? See if there are any you don’t need to be physically present for; you may be able to call into the meeting during your walk and get some stimulating fresh air and vitamin D to boot.

Next time you’re in need of an instant mood boost, give one of these simple techniques a try. You might be surprised just how well it works!

 

 

Sleep as if your health depends on it!

We all need more sleep, right? YAWN! We have said it or heard it hundreds of times. Get more sleep for better health. Yet despite the prevalence of the advice, there is a clear disconnect between hearing it and implementing it. For one, there is a positive stigma or bragging rights associated with “I only need 5 hours of sleep per night.” Secondly, our lives have become so busy, over scheduled, and over stressed, that it is easy to prioritize everything else before sleep. And lastly, even when we want to get more sleep, many of us are unable to do so for a variety of reasons that we will address.

As with many areas of health, the first step is educating ourselves about the importance of sleep. Only once we understand the real importance of sleep can we prioritize sleep adequately, thus committing to the sleep hygiene practices that help us achieve better health. Without education, the rest never follows.

The scientific literature is saturated with evidence that sleep is important for health. It would be overwhelming to try to summarize all the literature here, but here are some of the highlights. Poor sleep has been linked to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Poor job performance
  • Poor athletic performance
  • Car Accidents
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Strokes

And more…

One of the most common associations is the connection between poor sleep and poor performance in life. What does that mean? It means not achieving your goals. Whether it is athletic performance, work performance, or improving your overall health, inadequate sleep dramatically reduces the chances of success.

Let’s look at one of the most frustrating failures of lack of sleep- inability to lose weight. Numerous studies have shown that poor sleep habits lead to increased hunger, increased snacking and poor nutritional choices. Not only is there a proven relationship, but there is also a biological reason for this. Ghrelin is a hormone in our body called the “hunger hormone.” It signals to your body that you are hungry and need to eat. Leptin has the opposite effect. It says to your body that you are full and don’t need to eat. When we do not get adequate sleep, our ghrelin levels spike and our leptin levels are inhibited. Thus we have a biological reason for feeling hungry and snacking more. Plus, since our mental clarity is reduced and our emotional control is inhibited by poor sleep, we tend to make impulse decisions in reaction to the feeling of hunger. Impulse decisions rarely end in preparing a well-balanced meal of veggies with high-quality fats and proteins. Instead, they may result in standing in front of the freezer eating the Ben and Jerry’s right from the carton with no end in sight. I’d be lying if I said I have never been there before. But I can also say that I will never be there again.

The next concept I want to address is our perception of how much sleep we need. Many people with inadequate sleep may feel like they are doing just fine. But a fascinating study published in the journal Sleep in 2003 showed that people who got no more than 6 hours of sleep for 10 days had a similar decline in cognitive function and physical reaction time as those who were completely deprived of sleep for 2 whole days. The amazing part, however, was that they had no idea how bad their performance was. They felt they were thinking clearly and performing well on all the required tests, and they did not feel tired. That makes it even more dangerous! To perform so poorly and not even realize it is a recipe for disaster. At least those who were deprived of sleep for two whole days knew they were exhausted, and they could change their lives accordingly. The same cannot be said for the group who got less than 6 hours of sleep per night. So it is clear that we frequently need more sleep than we realize.

Yet another incredible study was recently published looking at the sleep patterns of traditional hunter-gatherer tribes. Sleep problems were so rare in their cultures that the three tribes studied did not even have words for insomnia in their language.

The study showed that they averaged 7.5-8 hours in bed per night. In addition, they had an absolutely consistent sleep-wake schedule thus maintaining a stable diurnal rhythm. Couple that with their lack of distractions from computers and phones, and it is no wonder their society had no concept of sleep problems.

What about those who say “Sleep is a waste of time. It is unproductive time I could spend accomplishing things.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. “Restorative Sleep” is a combination of Stage 3 sleep and REM sleep. It is appropriately named because your body literally restores itself while you sleep. Learning, memory, and concentration are improved while you are in REM sleep, and your body is able to heal and restore physical energy when you are in Stage 3 sleep (deep sleep or delta wave sleep). Without adequate time spent in each stage of sleep, the body is not able to perform its essential “reboot” functions. Lack of sleep robs your body of these restorative functions. In addition, alcohol and sleep medications can disrupt the balance of sleep stages, thus resulting in less restorative sleep. Part of the importance of maintaining a steady sleep schedule is that it allows your body to cycle through the stages of sleep consistently, ensuring that you get adequate time in the deep and restorative stages.

Lastly, part of the problem is that even those who want to sleep more find they cannot. Insomnia is a growing problem in our society with prescriptions for sleeping medications increasing over 50% since 2008. As with many things in medicine, prescription drugs are simply Band-Aids. They treat the symptom without addressing the underlying cause. Sleeping medications come with their own risks of developing dependence, rebound insomnia, potential short-term memory loss, and distorting the stages of sleep so that the sleep you do get does not have the full restorative power of naturally achieved sleep.

Once you have made sleep a priority for your health, there are a number of specifics to consider. Here are some tips to incorporate into your life for better sleep:

  • Reduce exposure to screens and artificial light– they disrupt the circadian rhythm and fool your brain into not being tired. Avoid screens 60 min prior to sleep or if that is not possible, consider using blue blocker glasses which help filter out the blue light from your devices. You should also maintain a very dark room for sleeping. Use black out shades, cover your clocks (or if you need them keep them more than 3 feet away from your head), if you need light use low wattage yellow, orange or red lights, not standard white lights
  • Maintain a consistent schedule– this can be difficult for many, but going to bed and waking up at the same time every day has been scientifically shown to improve sleep performance and allow for consistent deep, restorative sleep
  • Meditation-A study comparing individuals engaging in a mindfulness meditation practice vs. those who were given general sleep hygiene education showed significant improvements in sleep quality as well as less depression and fatigue in the mindfulness group. This does not mean you need to meditate for an hour a day. Just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation has proven results.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you from falling asleep. Even those who say caffeine has no effect on them have demonstrated reduced sleep performance than those who do not drink caffeine
  • Limit alcohol or any liquid for that matter. The more you drink, the more likely you are to wake up to urinate, thus giving your brain a chance to wake up and start spinning and reducing the chance of going back to sleep. Although alcohol may make you feel tired and help you “get to sleep,” it can dramatically alter the stages of sleep and prevent you from getting fully restorative sleep
  • Get outside and get light exposure during the day- This helps your circadian rhythm stay in sync with proper sleep-wake patterns. Studies in Hunter Gatherer societies have highlighted the importance of daytime light exposure. This may also help with your vitamin D levels, which are also linked, to better sleep performance.
  • Exercise during the day, but not within an hour before going to bed.
  • Keep your room cool, between 60-68 degrees
  • Bed is for sleeping and sex only, no TV books or phone use
  • Journaling to clear your mind before bed. This helps you get your thoughts out on paper so your mind is not ruminating on them and keeping you from falling asleep.
  • Low carb diet increases slow wave sleep, but fat can increase GERD, very individualized
  • Magnesium supplements (usually in the form of magnesium glycinate or malate) has been shown to help with falling and staying asleep
  • Melatonin is beneficial for short-term use when natural timing is disrupted, such as with travel or when your sleep cycle has been disrupted for other reasons. It is not meant to be used long term
  • Get checked for sleep apnea – This is a very common cause of poor sleep and now there are easily accessible home screening tests that can be ordered by your physician. Keep in mind that sleep apnea is more common in overweight people, as well as those who drink alcohol or take sedatives

The list is long, but hopefully, you will notice that most of these are actions that are easy to implement. Once we understand the importance of restorative sleep, and we prioritize sleep as a pillar of our health, then the above list becomes an easy “to do list” that will help you on your path to better sleep, better health, and a better life. 

How To Be A Morning Person

There are many benefits to rising early. It boosts your energy and lifts your mood. It amplifies your productivity and sparks your creativity. And it improves your chances of getting to work on time!

Are you looking for ways to become a morning person? Getting more sleep is a great first step. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of shuteye each night. But it’s not just the number of hours you sleep that affects your ability to wake up and seize the day. It’s also the quality of those ZZZs.

Even if you’re a true night owl, you can transform yourself into a morning person by making a few tweaks to your daily routines. So what are you waiting for? Adopt these healthy sleep habits and you’ll soon find yourself waking up refreshed and ready to go

  1. Set bedtime reminders: Sticking to a healthy sleep schedule starts with hitting the sheets around the same time every night. On your smartphone, set an alarm with a soothing sound that reminds you when it’s time to start winding down. (If you have an iPhone, check out the Bedtime tab on your alarm clock for a sleep analysis bonus.)
     
  2. Start slowly: Training your body to get sleepy when it should doesn’t mean you need to convince yourself to hop into bed at 9 p.m. when you’re used to doing so much later. Making too big of a leap will keep you lying awake and restless, plus more likely to rebound into old habits. Instead, try turning in just 15 minutes earlier than usual. When your body adjusts to this new bedtime, turn in another 15 minutes earlier.
     
  3. Stay consistent: Waking up at the same time every day will also help you stick to your new schedule, which you may find easier to commit to on weekdays. If you’re tempted to reward yourself with extra shut-eye on the weekends, resist the urge to lounge in bed. Sleeping in a couple of hours later than normal may feel luxurious now, but it can throw off your body’s internal clock—and land you with “a case of the Mondays.”
     
  4. Reframe your thinking: Do you tend to procrastinate when it’s time to go to bed? How you think about bedtime sends signals to your body, which may trigger or inhibit a sleepytime response. By the time you feel tired, you might find yourself saying, “It’s late, I should go to bed.” A little trick to make bedtime less flexible is to shift the way you think about it. Next time you’re up an hour later than intended, try saying to yourself, “It’s an hour past my bedtime.”
     
  5. Destress your morning routine: How you start your day can set the tone for a positive day—or not. Hectic mornings may seem like the norm, but they don’t have to be. Shorten your morning to-do list by shifting tasks to the night before, like picking out what to wear, preparing a make-ahead breakfast, packing a healthy lunch, setting the coffee timer, and organizing your work bag.
     
  6. Skip the snooze button: Tired of being tired, even after a full night’s sleep? If you tend to hit the snooze button, you may be making yourself more tired than you think. Setting your alarm to go off just eight to 10 minutes into a new REM cycle can lead to sleep inertia or that feeling of heavy morning grogginess that’s hard to shake. Moving your alarm clock away from your bedside will encourage you to get up and start moving right away.
     
  7. Cut back on caffeine: Any coffee lover knows that going cold turkey on the joe can be quite the feat. Gradually scale back on your caffeine intake. Not only will it help you snooze more soundly, you’ll be less likely to spend those extra dollars on a cup of coffee the next morning.
     
  8. Jumpstart your day: You don’t have to leap out of bed and hit the gym for a vigorous workout to reap the benefits of morning exercise (unless, of course, you want to).There are plenty of early-bird workouts you can do from the comfort of home, and all you need is 10 – 30 minutes of moderate physical activity to get your heart pumping and feel more energized for the day ahead.

All it takes to start your journey to becoming a morning person is to make one small change. You’ve got this! Which healthy sleep habit will you try tonight?

 

 

 

 

3 Simple Breathing Techniques You Can Practice Anywhere

It doesn’t always take a vacation to a private island or a lavish spa day to get some relaxation time in. There are simple, quick techniques you can learn and incorporate into your everyday schedule to help ease that nagging tension and anxiety you might feel, and they take only take 5 minutes or less! Any time you might feel overwhelmed by an upcoming deadline at work or stressed out just coping with everyday tasks, you can try out any of these three breathing techniques. Find a quiet space wherever you are (even at work!) and try one of these out to help you feel more relaxed and ready to tackle the rest of your day. 

Belly Breathing 

Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, this technique requires you to focus on expanding your stomach, rather than your chest, as you take in each deep breath. 

1. Preferably lying on your back, place one hand over your stomach and another over your chest. 

2. Breathe in slowly through your nose and through your stomach so that you feel your stomach rise against your hand as your abdomen fills with air. 

3. Exhale completely and as you exhale through your nose, feel your stomach deflate to its neutral position. 

4. Repeat this process for 5-10 minutes, focusing on the sensation of your stomach rising and falling with each breath. 

The 4-7-8 Method

This exercise helps you breathe more deeply while putting your mind into a meditative state as you focus on counting the seconds during each breath in and out. 

1. Sit in a comfortable position and start by slowly inhaling through your nose on a count of 4 seconds.

2. After the fourth second, hold your breath for a count of 7 seconds*

3. After 7 seconds, exhale your breath for a count of 8 seconds. Repeat this exercise 3-4 times. 

*If 7 seconds feels too long, lower the count to a number of seconds that feels more comfortable for you. 

Progressive Relaxation

Your entire body will take a role in this breathing exercise as you coordinate each breath with the tensing and relaxing of your toes and feet all the way up to your shoulders and head. 

1. Lying or sitting, start by tensing the muscles in your feet as you breathe in through your nose. Hold the breath for a moment as you experience what the tension feels like in your feet and toes. 

2. As you relax your feet, release your breath and exhale through your nose. Take another moment to appreciate the feeling of your feet no longer tensing and contracting. 

3. Continue the process throughout your whole body, including your legs, abdomen, arms, hands, shoulders, jaw and eyes. 

4. Finish the exercise by tensing the entire body as you take a final deep breath in, and as you release your breath make sure to focus on the sensation of each muscle returning to a relaxed state. 

Taking the time to breathe deeply not only helps remind your brain to calm down but it can help remind you to be mindful and present in the moment.  Just by taking 5 to 10 minutes out of your day to try any of these breathing techniques you’ll notice a difference in how you cope with your stress, negative thoughts and the tension you’re holding in your body. Give it a try and let us know which one works best for you! 

What Does Your Utopia Look Like?

What does your Utopia look like? Have you ever stopped to think about it? How does health fit in to your utopia?

I bet in your ideal world, you feel light, fit, and move freely with no aches or pains. You have a positive frame of mind, you're happy and energetic.

When you see yourself in this utopia, what does the rest of your life look like? What kind of exercise do you do? What kind of work do you do and what does your commute look like? What kind of food you eat and where is the food come from? What do your relationships look like with those you love? 

Hopefully it feels good to allow yourself this moment of exploration and daydreaming. Hopefully this simple exercise can inspire you to change certain aspects in your life to help bring your utopia closer to reality.

My Utopia

Take a minute to come explore my utopia where health is first and foremost. 

In my utopia, we all live close enough to a farmer’s market or a hydroponic garden to get fresh fruits and vegetables year around. We walk or ride our bikes to the market and the fresh veggies and fruits make up over 50% of our meals.

 In my utopia packaged and processed foods and sweets don’t exist. Processed white flour does not exist. Concentrated fruit juice doesn’t exist. Sodas, energy drinks, and sports drinks won’t exist.

We will hydrate our bodies naturally with water, tea or freshly ground coffee beans. We won’t have refined and processed sugar to pour into our drinks.

 The sweetest foods and most concentrated sugars are berries, oranges and apples.

And we love it.

 

You Can’t Crave What Doesn’t Exist

Some may stop and think, what about my sweet cravings? Well, if it doesn’t exist, you can’t crave it. It won’t even be an option so you’ll quickly learn not to even think about it. The longer you go without it, eventually your body will stop craving it.

It’s amazing how quickly our taste buds can get used to less sugar, less sweet in our food and drinks.

Think about how people would eat differently, and as a result how the spectrum of disease in this country would change.

Think about how the generations of kids growing up in this culture will see food and health differently.

Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

 

Don’t Stop With Food

I’m not about to end my utopia there.  Let’s keep going. 

In my utopia, we all live within biking distance to our place of work. We live in communities with close social interactions and connections.

We move our bodies regularly during the day. Even if we sit behind a computer for work (after all I want my utopia to be somewhat realistic), it is EXPECTED of us to get up and walk every 30 minutes. We aren’t looked at strangely for constantly getting up and moving, and we don’t need to apologize for taking “movement breaks.”

Our work culture is such that we all glare at the one or two workers who continually grind away without getting up. We remind them, “Hey, it’s been 45 minutes already. Get up and start moving.”

In my utopia, when we walk into a building, the first thing we see is the stairwell. If we want to take the elevator, we need walk around to find it.

In my utopia, parking lots are empty. At least empty of cars. The bike racks are full.

In my utopia, it is perfectly acceptable to place a sign on your office door, “Please do not disturb. Meditating for ten minues. Namaste”

Fantasy or Reality?

Is this all fantasy? Could you see any of this being based in a reality we may one day achieve?

One by one, my goal is to convince people that we shouldn’t just dream of a life like this. We should take action and recreate our lives like this. One by one, we can affect the change we want.

This is my utopia for health. Health is my priority, for myself, my family and us all.

A utopia with different goals would look much different. What would one look like for working your way up the corporate ladder? For making as much money as possible so you can vacation first class in the Bahamas?

Those would obviously look much different.

Unfortunately, I have seen too many people create their perfect world at the expense of their health. The result? They may achieve their perceived goal, but when they end up too sick or too stressed to enjoy it, they realize their goal was misguided from the beginning.

My utopia reflects my priorities: Health and happiness. What are your priorities?

Action Item:

Visualize your utopia. Take ten minutes, sit in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Close your eyes and visualize your perfect work. Connect as many sense as you can, sight, sound, feel. Connect as many aspects of your life that you can, your nutrition, your exercise, your work environment, your friends and family, and as many as you can imagine. Shoot for the moon and come up with as many examples as you can. Let the feeling sink in and enjoy. Then open your eyes and pick one item to implement today to get you closer to that life.

 

Thanks for reading.

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com

 

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

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