15 Benefits of Meditation

benefits of meditation

I’ve just finished day 10 of Headspace meditation, and I’m dedicated to sticking with it! I’ll post more about Headspace and meditation apps in my next post, but first, I’m going to tell you all about the benefits of meditation.

I spent some time researching meditation, which is why I decided to try it out. There are so many good things it does for our bodies! I read articles from Emma Seppala Ph.D., Forbes, Stepping Stones Mental Health, and Headspace to compile the following.

I feel extremely relaxed immediately after meditating, but I’m not sure if I’ve experienced any long-lasting effects. Some people say they’ve noticed effects immediately, but others say it’s gradual and takes time. Just like any physical exercise, mental exercise takes time to perfect too! Some articles say it takes a couple days, some say a couple weeks, and others say a few months. I’m just being patient and looking forward to some (or all!) of these benefits listed below.

EMOTIONAL

Increases optimism and resilience in hard times

Increases life satisfaction and sense of wellbeing

Reduces self-referential thoughts (thoughts that are typically associated with being less happy)

Reduces worrying and rumination

Increases self-awareness, self-confidence, self-understanding, and self-control

MENTAL

Increases attention span to stay on task longer and switch tasks less often

Reduces mind wandering and makes it easier to focus on current task

Increases creative thinking

Improves concentration, attention, focus, memory, and cognitive skills

PHYSICAL

Reduces stress, anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and pain

Helps with addition recovery to help people effectively manage cravings

Restores a sense of calmness, balance, and peacefulness

Improves sleep quality and increases energy

RELATIONAL

Improves communication with others to increase marital/relationship quality

Improves empathy and compassion

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Attempting to Train my Brain with Meditation

Bonus picture of my dog, April, relaxing on the couch!

Bonus picture of my dog, April, relaxing on the couch! Dog meditation 🙂

Ohm… Ohm… Ohm…

I’m just starting to take up meditation, but so far, so good! In my last post, I wrote natural about ways to alleviate stress and anxiety, and I mentioned meditation as one of the tips.

I finally decided to take my own advice and try meditating to relieve some of my anxiety. After reading up on meditation apps, I found really good reviews for an app called Headspace. The first 10 meditation sessions are free, so I thought, what the heck? I’ll give it a try!

Unfortunately, you have to pay a subscription fee to continue meditation sessions after the first 10. I’ll have to find another app to use once I finish the free trial because I’m too frugal to justify spending money on meditation (when it’s something that can be done for free).

I’m on day five right now, and so far, it’s great! The first couple days were hard, but that’s to be expected. Meditation takes training. The Headspace narrator explains this throughout the 10-day trial.

While I’m meditating, I feel so relaxed. One day, I even fell asleep during the session because I was so relaxed. If you have trouble falling asleep, you should try meditating before bed!

I’m trying my best to meditate every day. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on my progress and let you know how well meditation really helps relieve stress and anxiety.

I’ll be doing more research on meditation over the next few days, so in my next post, I’ll describe the benefits of meditation in detail!

  • Does anyone have experience with meditation?
  • How well did/does it work for you?
  • Does anyone have a recommendation for a good meditation app for Android?

Let me know in the comments!!

10 Natural Remedies to Alleviate Anxiety

Image from anandamarga.org.

Image from anandamarga.org.

Have you been feeling anxious and stressed lately? Me too, don’t worry. After scouring the Internet for ways to ease anxiety, I found lots of natural ways to help you feel more relaxed.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 18% of the adult population. Anxiety is characterized by nervous behaviors, such as ruminating thoughts, worries, and fears. These behaviors often cause muscle tension, poor concentration, restlessness, and fatigue.

There are many ways to treat anxiety, including counseling, therapy, prescription medication, and natural remedies. Due to unpleasant side effects of anxiety medication, many sufferers turn to natural, holistic approaches to manage their anxiety. Here are 10 natural remedies that can help ease anxiety.

Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese method restores the body’s energy force, called Qi. According to acupuncturists, Qi regulates your body’s overall health and restores balance. Acupuncture causes the nervous system to produce chemicals that jump start the body’s natural healing ability to calm your brain and relieve tension.

Chamomile

Whether you prefer chamomile tea or a chamomile supplement, this ancient medicinal herb can help to relax your blood vessels, smooth your muscle fibers, and improve your sleep, all of which contribute to anxiety relief.

Exercise

Exercise causes your brain to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Any physical activity helps, especially those that get your heart pumping and increase blood flow to your brain, such as yoga, jogging, or walking.

Deep Breathing

There are many deep breathing techniques, but they all center around the same idea: breathing deep into your abdomen. Take a slow breath in through the nose, hold for a couple seconds, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Just a few deep breaths can have a lasting feeling of relaxation.

Omega-3s

Omega-3s are a type of essential fatty acid that promotes cardiovascular health. These fatty acids increase your brain’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is lacking in those who suffer from anxiety. Good sources of omega-3s include fish, seeds, nuts, and green, leafy vegetables.

Meditation

This relaxation technique eases anxiety by quieting overactive minds and relieving stressful thinking. Meditation helps you become more aware of the present moment, eases muscular tension, and promotes deep breathing techniques.

Lavender

This soothing oil acts as a sedative with the brain centers (amygdala and hippocampus) that regulate emotion. Just add a few drops to a hot bath, put some in an oil diffuser, or dab a tiny bit on your temples.

Sunlight

When you are exposed to sunlight, your body produces vitamin D. This allows your brain to produce more serotonin, leading to a calming effect in your body. If you are on anxiety medication, be cautious of getting too much sun. Some medications may make you more sensitive to light, so be sure to use sunblock and talk to your doctor.

Hot Bath

Not only will a hot bath allow you some time to yourself in a quiet, peaceful atmosphere, but it is also a great place for some aromatherapy. Add a few drops of oil to your bath for the ultimate stress-relieving experience. Some relaxing oils include lavender, sage, rose, jasmine, and sandalwood.

Keep a Journal (or a blog!)

Set aside some time each day to document your thoughts. This helps you become more conscious and aware of your thought patterns, so you can see how thoughts cycle through your mind. It can be soothing to write and spend some quiet time reflecting.

These natural remedies should help you manage your anxiety and relieve stress. However, they might not work for everyone, so if your anxiety symptoms persist, see a doctor or counselor.

What do you do to reduce your stress and manage your anxiety? Let me know your tips in the comments! 🙂

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep

sleepbaby

Have you been sleeping more since you read my last post? Have you at least been trying to get more sleep?

Well, just like I promised, here are some of my tips for falling asleep faster, getting more sleep, and getting higher quality sleep.

Keep in mind, I’m not a doctor, nurse, sleep expert, or anything else like that. I’m just a person who has trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and getting good quality sleep.

Most of the time, I have a lot of stress that keeps me from falling asleep quickly. I’m also a light sleeper, so every little noise and movement wakes me up in the middle of the night. But, luckily, I have a few tips and tricks that help me fall asleep and stay asleep!

I know we’re all different, but here are some things that work for me:

Establish a bedtime routine.

My routine is usually to take a bath, take out my contacts, eat a snack, and either watch Netflix, crochet, or read. This helps my body understand that it’s time to wind down (both physically and mentally), so I can relax much sooner.

Drink tea before bed.

Once in a while, I’ll have a warm cup of tea before bed. This not only warms me up, but it also fills my belly and makes me drowsy. Just be sure it’s caffeine-free or herbal tea!

Watch TV to lull you into sleep.

I know we’ve been told that we should turn off the lights and get into bed to tell our brains to turn off. But in my personal experience, it helps me calm my mind by watching a show or movie I like. It helps me relax and stop worrying, and then I drift off into peaceful sleep.

Use your smartphone or e-reader to relax your mind.

I’ve been hearing a lot about how you shouldn’t use your smartphone or tablet before bed because the bright light tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime and you should wake up. But hear me out!

This, for me, works just like watching TV by allowing me to forget the worries of the day and fall fast asleep. Play a relaxing game, read a good book, or browse Pinterest. Whatever you do, just turn the screen brightness all the way down so you don’t keep yourself up.

Have a snack before bed.

I know they say eating before bed is bad because it makes you gain weight. Well, getting poor sleep at night because you’re hungry is going to make you gain weight too, so it’s your choice. Personally, I like going to sleep on a full stomach and not waking up starving in the morning.

Take a bath in the evening.

Run yourself a hot bath, grab a book or magazine, and relax. Let your mind and body relax, and you’ll be able to peacefully head to bed shortly after.

Prepare items for tomorrow before sleeping.

Before you jump into bed, get everything ready for the next day. Pack your lunch for work, pick out your clothes, get your keys and jacket out, pack your gym bag, and do anything else you normally do in the morning. Not only will this ease your mind, but you can also sleep in a few extra minutes in the morning!

Stretch before crawling in bed.

I don’t do this as often as I should, but it’s a great tip! Stretch your legs and back (even while sitting in bed), and your body will instantly feel less tense. Also, if you tend to get leg cramps at night, this might help you out.

Use a fan or earplugs to drown out noise.

I usually only use a fan to sleep, but if the neighbors are loud or my boyfriend is snoring, I’ll use earplugs too. This really helps if you’re a light sleeper because if you have a fan on and earplugs in, you won’t hear much at all. But don’t worry, you’ll still hear your alarm clock!

 

Let me know in the comments below if you have any tips on getting better sleep! And don’t forget to take your nap today!

Sleep, Snooze, Nap, Doze, and Dream

sleeping puppies

These dogs know what’s up! (Photo: PicPetz.com)

We’ve all heard people say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” but what you might not know is that you’ll be dead a lot sooner if you skimp on sleep. You might think you’re getting more ‘life’ out of your day by going to bed late or waking up early, but even though you’ll have more time for the moment, you’re cutting your life short.

I came across and article recently that really made me realize how important sleep is. I always heard it was important, but I never knew sleep was that important. I’ve compiled lots of research to help you understand how important sleep really is. Health isn’t just about diet and exercise; it’s also about living a healthy lifestyle. This means taking care of yourself, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Sleep plays a role in all three!

So let’s start with the basics. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Getting fewer hours of sleep can lead to stress, irritability, moodiness, poor concentration, grumpiness, and sluggishness. You might even experience slowed speech, poor judgement and decision making, impaired memory, and the inability to multitask. This is common sense. We’ve all had days when our brains are foggy from lack of sleep.

Here’s where it gets really scary. According to the Huffington Post, just one week of getting 6 hours of sleep per night can lead to over 700 genetic changes. If you only get 6 hours of sleep for one week, you’ll have four times the risk of stroke and a 48% higher risk of dying of heart disease when compared to someone getting adequate sleep. Lack of sleep also increases your risk for osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Healthline explains in great detail how a lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. If you don’t get enough sleep, your hormones get thrown off, particularly leptin and ghrelin. These hormones help regulate your appetite by telling your brain when you’re hungry and when you’ve had enough to eat. Those who average only 6 hours of sleep per night are 27% more likely to be overweight. Not only is this because your hormones are confused, but also because you’ll be lacking the mental and physical energy to exercise.

Have you ever noticed that after a late night or early morning, you want food? Whenever I don’t get enough sleep, I always want carbs. I also want to sit on the couch and be lazy, but that’s beside the point…

Food cravings + poor judgement from lack of sleep = unhealthy food choices (and ultimately weight gain if repeated over time).

Now you’re probably thinking, “well, I can always catch up on sleep during the weekend or take a nap later.” This is true, but only to a certain extent. Don’t get me wrong – naps are my best friend, and if I could, I’d nap every day. Sleeping in on weekends and napping will help, but they won’t fix the problem. Think of it like debt. Naps are like paying only the minimum monthly payment on a credit card. It’ll keep you afloat, but you’ll never be fully caught up. I’m definitely not telling you to stop napping – I’m a HUGE fan! Just remember, playing catch-up on sleep isn’t the best.

Now that you know the facts about lack of sleep, you just need some tips to help you get enough shut-eye! My next post will give you tips on how to fall asleep faster, get enough sleep, and sleep better throughout the night.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to nap today!! I’ll be taking my own advice 🙂

 

Healthy Yogurt Parfait Equation

Hi Readers!

I know it’s been a while since my last post… I know it’s no excuse, but I’ve been so busy moving to a new city, finding a new job, and being a grown up! Finally, I have some time to blog a little and try some new recipes. Here’s a cute little chart I made to help you make delicious yogurt parfaits.

Let me know in the comments if you have any other foods you like to add to your yogurt. I’m always looking for new ideas! Enjoy 🙂

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Say NO to Osteo…porosis

OSTEO

I few days ago, I was contacted by a woman who asked me if I would help spread awareness about osteoporosis because it affects over half of the total U.S. adult population. Of course, I was very willing to help. I like to do anything I can do to help my readers stay healthy! After researching more about osteoporosis, I became concerned that I, like many of you reading this, could be at risk for this disease.

Again, I want to reiterate, that I am always willing to help raise awareness about diseases and other health issues. Just leave me a comment, a Facebook message, a tweet, or send me a direct email. I will do whatever I can to help all my readers stay healthy! Now, back to the reason we’re here. The following information comes from the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Recall Center.

What is osteoporosis?

It is a bone disease that makes bones brittle, weak, and porous with low bone density. It can cause broken bones, especially in the hip, wrist, and spine. (For more interesting information about hip fractures and replacement, click here.) It can lead to chronic bone pain, height loss, and poor posture. There aren’t really symptoms of osteoporosis because it sneaks up on you without warning.

How common is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is extremely common. Statistics say that one in two women and one in four men (age 50 and older) will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Sound scary? Just keep reading.

Here is a direct quote from the National Osteoporosis Foundation: “A woman’s risk of breaking a hip due to osteoporosis is equal to her risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined. And a man age 50 or older is more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than he is to get prostate cancer.”

See that? All these years, doctors, media, and other people have warned us about these types of cancers. I don’t know about you, but no one has ever brought up osteoporosis, and it is even more common.

What puts us at risk for osteoporosis?

Some things you can’t control that can put you at an increased risk for osteoporosis:

  • being a female
  • being age 50 or older
  • having a family history of osteoporosis
  • going through menopause
  • having a low body weight or being small and thin
  • having certain health issues (click here to see the list)

There are risk factors you can control, however:

  • not getting enough calcium and vitamin D
  • not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • drinking too much alcohol
  • smoking, losing weight
  • eating too much protein, caffeine, and sodium
  • not getting enough exercise
  • taking certain medications (click here to see the list)

What can we do to decrease our risk of osteoporosis?

Eat foods that promote bone health:

  • milk (dairy, soy, almond)
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • vegetables
  • fish
  • fruits
  • calcium-fortified foods (cereal, bread, juice)

Do exercises for strong bones:

  • high-impact weight-bearing exercise (dancing, running, tennis, jumping)
  • low-impact weight-bearing exercise (speed walking, elliptical, stair-stepper)
  • strength training (weight lifting, resistance bands)
  • balance exercises (yoga, Tai Chi)

And to finish off this post, I will include some of my recipes that have bone-strengthening foods!

Please raise awareness and spread the word about osteoporosis!

Healthy Campfire Foods & Snacks

Photo courtesy of HealthCastle.com

Photo courtesy of HealthCastle.com

I love summer! The best part about summer is spending time outside with family and friends. We usually have quite a few bonfires during the summer (actually, we just had one last week!). Campfires are all about eating s’mores and hot dogs, but if you’re trying to eat healthy like me, it can be hard to find something equally as delicious to enjoy!

No worries! I’ve compiled a list of some easy and delicious campfire foods for a backyard bonfire, camping trip, or even just an indoor stove-top flame.

Grilled Fruit

  • Apples
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Bananas

Top your fruit with a sprinkle of cinnamon, a drizzle of honey, a handful of raisins, some peanut butter, or even a little brown sugar!

Grilled Veggies

  • Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Asparagus
  • Green Beans

Starchy Snacks

  • Popcorn (just the kernels, not the store-bought kind)
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Sweet Potatoes

Small Meals

  • Burritos/Fajitas (whole wheat tortilla filled with beans, salsa, chicken, cheese, etc.)
  • Grilled Chicken, Shrimp, or Fish
  • Kabobs (with veggies, fruit, chicken, or shrimp)
  • Peppers stuffed with quinoa and cheese
  • Pita Bread Pizzas (whole wheat pita stuffed with cheese, veggies, etc.)

It’ll take some experimenting with all of these to get them just right. It really depends on how you like your campfire foods cooked, how hot your fire is, and what equipment you have with you. For most of these foods, simply wrap them in foil and set near the coals or on a cooking rack. the popcorn and kabobs will take a little more equipment, but if you have it on hand, try it out!

I hope these healthy campfire foods make it easier for all of you to stay healthy while enjoying time with friends. It can be hard to eat healthy foods while socializing, especially when everyone else is indulging in marshmallows and s’mores. Remember: don’t deprive yourself of a s’more; just eat one! But remember to fill your belly with healthy foods too!

 

 

There is NO such thing as PERFECT

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Read that title again. Memorize it. Repeat it. This is what I tell myself multiple times per day so I don’t drive myself completely crazy trying to be something I’m not.

Lately, I’ve been struggling to remember that there is no such thing as perfect. No one is perfect. Nothing is perfect. It’s our so-called “imperfections” that make us truly beautiful. Don’t let anyone ever convince you that you need to be perfect, because it simply doesn’t exist. We are all perfectly imperfect.

So why have I been struggling to remember that there is no such thing as perfect? Well, after making the switch from clean eating to healthy eating, I relaxed a bit on my healthy eating and my exercising. I took a couple weeks off from working out, and I treated myself more often than I normally do. I spent more time relaxing and watching tv, and I napped more often. I was in need of some stress relief, so I relaxed for a while.

Well, obviously, when you spend hours each day watching Netflix and taking naps, you’re bound to put on a few pounds… especially if you just started re-introducing foods into your diet that you haven’t eaten in a while (for me, it was cheese, milk, cereal, and bread). So, I gained a few pounds. Nothing serious. My jeans fit a bit snug, and my shorts are too tight. But it really got me concerned – way more than it should have.

At first, I was all upset, and I wanted to go back on a strict eat clean diet and exercise it all off. But then, I realized that I’ve been happier, more relaxed, and less stressed now that I’ve been less strict with my dieting and exercising. I tried to remind myself that moderation is key to a healthy lifestyle. And then, I reminded myself that there is no such thing as perfect.

There is no perfect body type. Even though society and the media pressure us to have a “perfect” body and “perfect” appearance, there isn’t one specific body type that is desirable for everyone. We are all different, and we all should embrace our unique bodies!

There is no perfect personality. I try to get along with everyone and be nice to everyone, but no matter what, there will always be people who don’t like me. And that’s totally fine. No one’s personality can be compatible with everyone.

There is no perfect diet. No matter what, you can’t eat a perfect diet without driving yourself insane. Try going even a week without one so-called “cheat” food. No salad dressing, no store-bought bread, no mints, no cheese… can you imagine??

I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Your best friend isn’t perfect. Your significant other is not perfect. Your family isn’t perfect. But does that make you love those people any less? No? Exactly! So they love you the same whether or not you’re perfect. (Which is good, because none of us can be perfect!)

So, keep this in mind: there is NO such thing as perfect. Don’t go trying to make yourself perfect; just surround yourself with people who already think you are.