Health

Ask a Health Coach: No Time for Self-Care?

coffee with friends who made time for self careHey folks! In this week’s Ask a Health Coach, Erin is answering your questions about eating primally on the road, what to do when you feel like you’re forcing yourself to exercise, and the role coherent breathing plays in reducing anxiety. Got a question for Erin? Post it below or over in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.

 

Angela asked:

“I have a predicament. I’m a small business owner and drive a lot during my day. I don’t get a lot of time for lunch, I just eat when I’m driving, so for the last 3 months I’ve been eating sandwiches (NOT primal, at all). All of my symptoms have come back in full force (migraines, acid reflux, etc.), and today I stepped on the scale and have gained 20 lbs!! What can I pack for lunch that can be eaten while also driving?”

Ok, so I’m dying to know. If you own the business, can’t you schedule time to eat? My guess is that you’re the one who makes the schedule. So, in theory, you could arrange to give yourself a 30-minute break in the middle of the day for a satisfying, satiating meal, where you’re not driving, multi-tasking, or taxing your central nervous system with added stress.

You’ve Got to Rest to Digest

Each of us has a built-in on-off switch for our digestive and metabolic systems. Driving around, urgently eating sandwiches (or any food, really; let’s not blame the sandwiches for this) turns on your sympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight or flight response. This response kicks in anytime you experience stress — both real and perceived. Thinking about an urgent meeting? Worried about traffic? Judging yourself for the extra 20 pounds? These are all stressors. And they all signal your body to sub-optimally digest food, which can lead to acid reflux, bloating, and yes, weight gain.

Eating on the go is a recipe for digestive dysfunction, regardless of if lunch is a sandwich or meat on a stick. Wherever possible, it’s best to have your body in a parasympathetic state to properly digest food. Even just the sight and smell of food triggers your brain to start releasing digestive enzymes. Plus, when you’re relaxed, you’re more apt to chew your food versus snarfing it down because you’re short on time.

 

I Don’t Love the “On-the-Go” Meal

Hear me out, because sometimes I know it’s simply a reality that we will be super busy and eating on the run. I just ask that it’s the exception, not the norm, wherever possible. I don’t have a handy list of hand-held Primal lunches you can eat while driving, and here’s why: Call it self-care, self-love, or respecting yourself enough to make time for a supportive meal, when you say you need to the world’s fastest and easiest meal idea, what I hear is: “I’m not an important enough line item on my own To Do list.” I hear that staying in a steady stream of stress is more important to you than allowing your body to embark on the miraculous process of digestion.

Your awareness around your migraines and acid reflux is awesome. But swapping bread for a lettuce wrap isn’t the (only) answer you need. Getting grains and processed food back out of your diet will be a big part of feeling better, but it’s only part of the equation. Figure out how to make time for a proper lunch — one where you’re not stressing out behind the wheel. Since you’re the boss of your own small business, my question back to you is: can you set aside even 30 minutes to forage for something more nourishing?

Lauren asked:

“I know I should be exercising more (I still have about 15 lbs to lose), but I constantly feel frazzled with zero energy to put toward workouts and even less interest in going to the gym. Any tips for helping me get reinspired?”

The “should” rears its ugly head. “I should have lost this weight,” “I should be exercising more,” “I should make time.” Often what we’re really saying to ourselves is that “I should be more like someone else.” The word should is an illusion designed to shame us into a false sense of self.

Every time you force yourself to do something (which is what you’re doing whenever you do something because you think you “should”), you’re consciously draining your energy. Each time you act in a way that’s out of alignment with what intuitively feels right to you, you’re neglecting who you are on an authentic level. And most importantly, using the word should implies that you’re not being accepting of who you are — you’re rejecting yourself on the most basic level.

Since your question is not about exercise advice, but is about getting reinspired to move more, let’s try this. Instead of forcing more time on the treadmill or in the weight room, take a step back to see where these feelings are coming from. In my experience, it’s often lurking in one of two places:

  • Internal pressure = I need to look a certain way, and exercise is the way to attain it
  • External pressure = Someone else thinks or has suggested to me that I should be exercising more (note: these could be the fit-fluencers in your Instagram feed!)

Enter Self-Compassion

Right now, you feel the pressure to exercise more. But it’s not about getting to the gym or losing the weight, is it? The word should indicates regret and rejection, and it’s often rooted in negativity and critical thinking. I don’t know about you, but I’m much more productive when I operate about of a place of self-compassion and positivity. I’m much more apt to do something that brings me joy rather than wallow in self-criticism.

Research proves that self-compassion can lead to making healthier food choices, mitigate the effects of regret, and even promote self-improvement efforts.1

What if you put the weight loss aside and treated yourself with kindness instead of negativity? What if you loved and appreciated your body for the miracle it is? What if you practiced a little self-compassion?

When you remove the energy-draining pressure of all the shoulds from your life, you’ll start to notice that you naturally have more motivation to do whatever it is you want to do. Heck, once the pressure’s off, you might even like going to the gym.

Brian asked:

“My office is starting to implement a hybrid work model, and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m feeling anxious about going back. What can I do to help get over it?”

Post-pandemic anxiety is a real thing, so as much as you might be looking for ways to “get over it,” it’s important to cover a few basic things first.

  • For more than a year, you (and everyone else) have been told to stay home to stay safe
  • You’ve got an established routine working from home
  • Anytime you venture into a new routine or habit, there’s a certain level of uncertainty
  • The brain doesn’t like uncertainty

Uncertainty = Anxiety

For a lot of people, not knowing what’s around the corner is a huge source of anxiety, fear, and stress. The brain is constantly making judgements about what’s safe and what isn’t based on your existing beliefs. And if it isn’t sure what’s happening next, it can’t do its job of protecting you.

Depending on how you’re wired, your brain may also like to assume the worst, jumping to fear-based conclusions, overestimating threats, and underestimating your ability to handle them. You can thank your innate survival instincts for that.

How Breathing Can Override Your Thoughts

Your thoughts are just thoughts — they’re not truth. And just because your brain is thinking them, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with them. Research shows that changing how you breathe can send a signal to the brain that adjusts the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. By breathing a certain way, you can slow down your heart rate, improve digestion, boost your immune system, and reduce the release of the stress hormone cortisol.

Studies also prove that breathing can positively affect chronic issues like insomnia, PTSD, depression, ADD, and anxiety.2

While there are plenty of breathing techniques out there (and just as many apps to guide you through it), the one I recommend is called coherent breathing where you breathe through your nose at a rate of 5 breaths per minute . Do this quick exercise with me and bookmark this page so you can come back to it when you need it:

  1. Sit quietly away from distractions
  2. Breathe in through your nose for a count of six
  3. Breathe out through your nose for a count of six
  4. Repeat 4 more times

If you’ve never practiced coherent breathing before, you may have to work up to the 6-second count, but it’s worth it if you want to wrangle your thoughts, calm your anxiety, and get to a place where the thought of going back to work doesn’t make you want to hide under the covers.

Do you make time for self-care? Let me know in the comments.

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