Winter Blues

As the days get shorter and the nights get longer more people are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). More commonly known as “Seasonal Depression”. It affects more than THREE MILLION people per year.

Sunlight Plays a Role in Winter Blues

Although the specific cause of SAD remains unknown, there are a few science-based facts that could contribute to SAD. The reduced sunlight of winter months plays a huge role in Seasonal Depression because it throws off your body’s internal clock. It can also alter the body’s melatonin levels and have a massive effect on sleep and sleep patterns, thereby causing insomnia or on the other end of the spectrum, chronic fatigue. This lack of sunlight also causes serotonin levels (a hormone that aids in producing feelings of happiness and well-being) to drop leaving those feelings harder to acquire for some.

People at Risk

You’re most at risk of experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder if you have a family history of mental illness, already have depression and/or bipolar disorder, or if living far from the equator. If you’re experiencing Seasonal Depression, you may experience a few or all of the following:

  • Mood changes
  • Disrupted sleep (too much or too little)
  • Lack of energy
  • Craving of carbs/overeating 

Staying Mentally Fit

             So now that we know what it is, what can we do to combat it to keep ourselves mentally fit? The tips I’m about to list here are not at all rocket science but they are underestimated and will produce benefits. I’d also like to disclose that these are just tips — if you are experiencing SAD to an extreme degree or are having suicidal thoughts, please see your provider, therapist, or go to the nearest Emergency Room for help in a crisis if necessary. 

 

  • The Power of Friends and Family.

 

Firstly, I’d suggest you connect with people as frequently as you can. It’s easy to go into hibernation mode this time of year; it’s cold, dark, and leaving home just doesn’t always sound the most appealing. This lack of social interaction can lead to loneliness, overthinking and even isolation – all major contributors to depression. When we gather together with friends or family, we’re motivated to make an effort and put our attention on something other than what’s got us feeling down.

 

  • The Power of Sunlight.

 

Next, get some sunlight when you can. A short morning walk or before dark can do wonders. But of course that can get difficult in the winter. And if you’re a 9-5’ers you may be thinking, “It’s dark out when I wake up and dark again when I get home. How am I supposed to do that?” That is a great question.

My solution to you folks is: Light therapy. Light therapy can be done right at home. It’s a specially made “lamp” like device that gives off white fluorescent lights that mimic sunlight. There is a plastic screening in place that blocks UV rays. It’s recommended to sit in front of the light for 30 minutes each morning. It’s also important to consult with your provider prior to trying this if you are on any medications. This is because certain medications mixed with this treatment could cause damage to the retina (mostly for conditions such as diabetes or retinopathy). Studies from the Cleveland Clinic show that Light Therapy helps reduce SAD by 60-80%.

 

  • Exercising is great for Physical & Mental Fitness.

 

Lastly, we’ve all heard that exercising releases endorphins and endorphins make you happy – and this is correct! When the cold hits, only the strongest of the strong make it outside routinely to exercise. Running a mile in the snow? It’s a no from me! Instead, try getting active indoors. It is an absolute myth that you need a work-out room full of gym equipment to get active at home. Try exercises like HIITS or yoga to get your blood pumping and body moving. If you are interested in using some equipment, a few light weights can go a long way! Another alternative is to try to make the most of winter and get outdoors doing winter-like activities such as snowboarding, skiing, or maybe ice skating. Creating and engaging in fun outdoor activities will help you feel gratitude when you otherwise may not. 

I wish you the best in health and wellness,

Stephanie – Clinical Assistant

The Merits of Keeping a Journal

Throughout my life I have had a very up-and-down relationship with journaling. I have had times where I kept a daily entry for a couple weeks, then stopped. Months went by and I started up again. Then I did something weekly, and that lasted only for a while. A year went by before I started up again. See the pattern? Sometimes I sit down to write in my journal. I look at the date of my previous entry and think, “Holy moly I’ve sucked at keeping up with this!”

Does that describe you? Or perhaps you’re the kind of person who has thought about journaling, but it seems too big a commitment. Maybe you think, “I’m no writer,” or “I don’t need to journal,” or “What would I possibly write about?” or “I’m an external processor, journaling isn’t for me,” or “I’d like to but it’s too time-consuming,” etc.

Why Should You Journal in the First Place

I think journaling is something that every individual can benefit from regardless of your personality/education/background. However, it sometimes takes practice to cultivate that skill and also discover what it could look like for you ​ . Yes – I’ve found journaling to be something that is very individualized.

Getting Past the “Diary” Stigma

I know for me, journaling had a stigma behind it of writing for each entry, “Dear diary…”Or trying to come up with an essay-format entry that took 30 minutes to write and make it sound profound. Of course all that ended up happening was getting a fraction of my thoughts down on paper. When reading it back I thought, “Wow that sounds way less profound and not quite what I’m thinking or feeling. This is lame.”

Or, I approached journaling with the belief that I should read back on old entries later in life – a memento, if you will, that will somehow help my future self in some way. Frankly – that’s all just too much pressure to put on myself – it’s frustrating and simply not that realistic in my experience. No wonder I (or others) wouldn’t want to stick with it. However, I have learned some things over the course of time that may help you approach this practice/discipline of writing in a journal.

A Way to Process and Reflect on Your Life

But before we get to that, one could ask, “Why should I journal in the first place?” Frankly most of us don’t get to spend enough time actually processing how we are doing, let alone feeling. It’s so easy to be tossed to and fro by the urgent necessities of life and don’t get a moment to catch our breath. Next thing we know, we are bewildered with how time has flown by and we are bewildered by how it’s possible nothing has changed about ourselves and our growth. We realize we’ve done lots of things yet feel “stuck”. Therefore, it is crucial to have times and methods incorporated into your life that allow you to process and reflect on what’s happening to you and around you and within you. If you don’t, how will you know what your next steps are to grow and improve?

A Personal Experience

In my mid-late twenties I was at a social function and I felt angry. If you met me, you’ll know that’s one of the last words to describe me. So it really hit me that something was WAY off. So I went home and opened up my journal and began to write. It helped me get the junk out of my head by putting my thoughts down into words. It brought clarity to the emotions. I hadn’t gotten angry overnight. It built ​ up because I wasn’t resolving my emotions and thoughts and addressing them. (Like Yoda saying in Star Wars, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – it’s a progression). I was able to have more meaningful conversations with my close friends because I now knew more of how I actually was doing and could relay that and get advice and help.

Get it out of Your Head

Here’s another example that resonated with me. I listened to a guy named Sal in a podcast on Mind Pump Media. In summary, he ​ asked, “Do you know how to get a song that’s just playing in a loop and stuck in your head to stop?” He had read that playing that song through to its conclusion helps to end that loop. In a similar way, he’d found that journaling was an effective way for him to “close the loop” of his thoughts and emotions. When I heard that, I thought, “That’s exactly how to describe it.” When thoughts in our minds are left unchecked we carry a kind of tension within ourselves.  This just adds stress and confusion and clutter to our minds. Getting it out of your head helps relieve that burden and helps make sense of things (or at least begins to make sense of things).

Practical Approaches to Keeping a Journal

All that said, here are some practical approaches to journaling:

  • Journal however much or little you need or want to. It doesn’t have to become a routine or obligation. Approach it as a tool to use when you need it.
  • If a paragraph/essay format doesn’t suit you, try writing things out in bullet-points (short quick thoughts).
  • Get a journal or book that suits your taste and who you are. It helps make it more meaningful and inviting. Your style may be fancy or a simple spiral bound notebook may suffice.
  • Maybe writing isn’t all that much your thing. Who said you have to use words? You can draw little pictures or make lots of arrows and other symbols that connect your thoughts together.
  • If you’re an external processor like me, I have found it incredibly helpful to take time and craft key questions. I write that question down, and then I write in answer to that question. This helps simulate a conversation and put structure to what to write about.
  • If you don’t have much time but want to journal, just set a timer (even 5 minutes) and write however much you write in that time. Maybe it’s one sentence, maybe a few. That’s alright – whatever you can stick with!
  • Write for the sake of helping your present self. While it may be neat to look at your past journal entries, don’t feel like that’s the goal. It’s not. I write with the intention of not reading what I wrote again (it doesn’t mean I won’t, but it takes the pressure off of needing to write well or profoundly).

So, what do you think is your next step in better reflecting on your present self?

 

Dan Tribley

Lead health coach

EPIC Functional Medicine Center

The Trap of Legalism In Changing Your Habits

“All or Nothing”

First, the discussion here can apply to anything you’re working on to improve yourself with, not just healthy lifestyle habits.  With that said, one thing I have encountered quite often with both myself and with the clients I work with is this:

Me: “How has changing your diet been going the last couple weeks with doing this detox?”

Client: “Not good, Dan. I was doing well for the first week and a half, but then gave in and ate things I shouldn’t have and have been totally “off-plan” since.”

Does this sound familiar to you? I hear and see this happen all the time. Why is that? Why do we (or most of us) have this “all or nothing” mentality that ultimately causes us to crash and burn? Worse, when this happens we can spiral into guilt and shame, or at the very least frustration. Well, many have asked this question for hundreds if not thousands of years, and it’s a loaded question. There are many angles in which to address and approach what’s going on here. And boy, they can go deep inside a person. I will just chat today about one angle of that – “Who said it had to be all or nothing?”

Mental Legalism and How Can It Affect You

I think, for a lot of us, we fall into a way of thinking (without realizing it). That is, we place health and the habits we are trying to build into a state of “legalism” or a moral basis. Consequently, we start to define what we are doing as “right and wrong” rather than as being “in process.”

What do I mean by legalism? To start with, the Miriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a “Strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code.” How does this apply mentally? Well, we often times create rules or laws in our minds without consciously being aware of it. Then, we become “guilty” of breaking whatever that law is. For example, you are working on doing a radical shift with your diet. A bunch of foods that are restricted were ones you used to eat often. But here’s what happens, we read the word “restrict” and subconsciously think, “these are ‘bad’ foods to have. When we think “bad” foods we think, “These are ‘wrong’ foods to have.” Then we think, “If I eat this ‘bad’ food then I have done something ‘wrong’.”  See how that translates quickly into a law or moral code?

Excessive Conformity versus Striving to Achieve One’s Goals

I personally, believe we are moral beings. No matter whether you ascribe those morals to a higher being, the universe, or even just to yourself – we all still strive to abide by our moral codes. (Again, that’s what I personally believe and see very evident in every individual I have ever met). The problem is, we break those rules all the time and it affects us.

Now, having rules/morals on things is not a bad thing at all – but do we need to do that with ourselves when we are simply in the process of building new habits and trying to grow? Do we need to do that to ourselves with things like food, exercising more, drinking more water, etc? Is that truly constructive? Notice I said a sentence ago, “in the process of” – a process implies that it takes time, and there will be mistakes. So why create this expectation for yourself that you won’t or are not allowed  to make those mistakes? (See how that language “allowed” tends to imply legalism?) I want to share with you some other perspectives that I hope will be of help, as I know they’ve been helpful at times in my life.

My Own Perspective

Before I get to that, I do want to explain myself on something first (and it may sound contradictory to everything I’ve just laid out so far, but keep reading). Personally, I believe my habits and what I do with my health (let alone every other aspect of my life) is tied to morals based on my spiritual beliefs. HOWEVER, my spiritual beliefs also are deeply rooted in immense grace, which empowers and enables me to continue moving forward despite my failures and mistakes I make along my way in life. Without that grace, though, my spiritual beliefs would be otherwise destructive to my ability to grow and move forward if I placed myself in that state of legalism with everything I strive to grow and become. Again – those are my personal beliefs, I just wanted to clarify.

Practical Application

In my health coaching curriculum I attended a lecture in which the speaker gave an example that caught my attention. He explained that there were two men. The first man was well-built, toned, at a good body-weight, and everything pointed to him looking and acting healthy. The second man, on the other hand, was obese, struggled with a number of symptoms and chronic conditions, etc.

The speaker went on to ask this question, “Which of these two men are healthier?” Of course, all of use think the first one, right? But the speaker said the second man is. Okay….why? What the speaker didn’t yet share in his example, but continues on to explain, is that the first man has many habits and a dietary lifestyle that are not healthy (to make a long story short). While the second man recently underwent working on changes in his diet, hydration, stress, etc.

In other words, the first man, though healthy right now, is on a downwards trajectory with his health. The second man, though he has a long road ahead of him still, is on an upward trajectory. At the end of the day, the second man is going to be thriving sooner than later, while the first man will continue to degrade in his health.

Your Long-term Goals

I love the above example. It reminds me that it’s a better question to assess your trajectory rather than your present successes/mistakes. It helps me to think more along the lines of “Where is my culmination of choices recently taking me. How can I continue tweaking it?” Rather than, “Today I made a mistake and failed.” You have to remember to think to yourself, “Okay, I made a mistake, but how am I doing in the bigger picture?” Broadening your perspective will help immensely with shifting away from that trap of legalism.

Now you might ask, “don’t mistakes hinder progress to the goals I’m trying to achieve?” Well sure. They may change the rate at which you reach your goals, but you’ll still eventually get there! So you should ask yourself what your personal expectations are on how fast you want to change, and then evaluate those expectations and consider, “is that realistic and fair to myself?” It may be, it may not be.

The Best Plan is the One You Can Stick to

The second thing I want to share is this (and it’s short and sweet and totally not my own idea). In his book, “Bigger Leaner Stronger,” Michael Matthews wrote (to paraphrase) that the best plan is one you can stick to. So consider that and realize what you can more or less consistently (though not perfectly!) stick to. When you throw time into the equation, it will get you where you want to be. But be patient with yourself and the process.

I would like to end with one final thought. For those of you reading a self-help book, or going through a care plan at EPIC, or any other endeavor that is guided by written material. Keep in mind that reading something will be black and white (pun intended) because what is written stays how it’s written and can feel like there’s no room to budge and be flexible (“do this and don’t do that!”). Just remember that, in my opinion, 9 times out of 10 the author wants to get the best information and plan out there to his or her readers. Sometimes, it can read and feel like, “if you don’t perfectly follow xyz, you’ll not grow.” However, just keep perspective and realize these books and written material are tools to guide you.

So – where do you feel you’ve wrapped yourself up in legalism? Where do you find guilt and/or shame sprout through? Find someone to talk to and share that with – it helps! See where you can change your perspective, if applicable, based on what you read here today.

 

Lead health coach Dan Tribley
EPIC Functional Medicine Center

A Simple Way to Manage Stress

How Can Seconds Save You Hours of Stress?

Recently an article was brought to my attention on various concepts of relieving stress. One of the components it shared in regards to lowering stress was a word Statio. Have you heard of this word before? I had not. However, when I read more about it, it succinctly captured something I find very important.

Statio – What does it mean?

First, let me explain what the word means. The word statio is rooted in old-established monastic customs. It often means “time between times” or “a moment between moments”. Also it can mean “the pause between those times when you are doing things.” Simply, you could view it as the practice of stopping one action before beginning another. Now let’s take a look at what this has to do with stress.

Modern Day Stress

We can easily miss this concept of statio in this day and age of hustle and bustle. Everything today, from our phones and computers to the speed of service we expect is so much faster than say, 50 years ago. And the more we advance technologically, the faster people expect things to be. We rapidly move from one thing to the next, sometimes without even thinking about what we are doing. There seems to be no pause between our actions or activities. Life can literally become a blur and with this, more stress.

My point — this concept of statio can be key to helping us reduce our chronically stressed and busy lives without requiring monumental overhauls in our schedule. Sure, if you find you don’t have time to take care of yourself in any capacity, you should dig deeper at the roots of that and address it. However, that can be a process that takes time, or can feel like too big a task to tackle at first. What some of us may need is something simpler to get started on this journey of managing stress (since managing our stress is such a key component to our overall health and wellbeing).

Statio in this day and age?

Even in this day and age statio is possible. But first, let’s look at what happens when you don’t use statio. Let me give an example I think you might relate to.

You’re in your car running 3 minutes behind for an important meeting. Maybe you normally drive 5 mph over the speed limit. But today you stretch it to 7 or 8 mph over the limit. You’re saying, “Thank you” to the powers that be for each green light (and especially every yellow light!). And you curse when you hit each red light. You’re looking at the clock over and over, and you arrive and rush into the meeting. You barely just make it on time! However, you’re still trying to “catch up” with what the meeting is about because you’ve been preoccupied with the thought of just making it on time. It’s not until a couple minutes into the meeting you feel settled in and are tracking with what’s going on. All the while, you still have this “tenseness” about you that leaves your neck feeling creaky by mid-day.

A Different Outcome

Now, let’s rewind the tape. You leave on time (a few minutes early, in fact!). So everything is cool. You hit a few red lights but it’s okay. You’re not concerned about the clock. You’re just enjoying the beautiful weather out there and listening to some good music. You arrive to your meeting a few minutes early.  Therefore, you’re able to give a friendly “hello” to your co-workers. You sit down, get your notes out and think about what the meeting will be about. The meeting starts and you’re off to the races and ready to go. You’re relaxed going into the meeting — no tension that whole morning and you still feel alright come noon. All that because of a few minutes.

But do you see the different chain reactions? Sure, in this example, it was predicated upon leaving early, and therefore there was some forethought to the process. But what if you couldn’t control the circumstances that caused you to leave late for the meeting to begin with? Maybe your kids were a whirlwind to get out the door or your alarm didn’t go off, etc, etc. Okay, that’s fair. You arrive at work rushed. But you could make a key positive difference still.

Applying Statio

Before you walk in the building (maybe even before you get out of the car) you take a deep breath. Then you acknowledge that the morning was what it was. You say to yourself, “Okay, let’s go into this meeting with eyes open, ears listening,” (Okay, maybe you don’t think exactly that to yourself, but you get the picture). Now you get out of your car (only 20 seconds later than you would otherwise) so you still arrive on time. But you are far more collected and present. You have the meeting and have less stress/tension in your body. Additionally, you feel more relaxed later that day and not dwelling so much on what happened that morning.

My Personal Experience

Here is a personal experience I’d like to share with you of applying statio to my own life.  It’s that moment when I get home from work and the ritual I have created.  I come in the door, give my wife a hug. Then I immediately do the following three things: (1) go to the bathroom and wash my face, (2) go to the bedroom to change out of my work clothes, and (3) take 2 minutes and get a few stretches in after a day of lots of sitting. All this happens in only about five minutes. But for me, it’s such a game changer to feeling ready to go into the rest of my evening. I can better put to rest all the activities and thoughts that may have been swirling around in my brain on my commute home.

The main reason I noticed how much this ritual in my life helps minimize stress is because I’ve had a couple times where I did not have this “statio”. In one case, my wife and I had a social engagement that immediately had me going to the next thing (i.e. get home, wife comes out to greet me, I get in the car with my portable dinner, and off we go). In times like these, there was a much higher chance I’d end the day with a slight headache, and I’d discover the next day that my food didn’t digest as well (yep – there you go).

Conclusion

So what about you? It’s easy to think, “I need to have xyz done yesterday. I do NOT have a few seconds or minutes to incorporate statio in my life”. I disagree – everyone can put in a few seconds or a few minutes each day and still do what they need to do. However, you’ll need to take a step of faith and try it out. Take a look. Where might there be some key points in your day where you might have a moment to pause and collect yourself that could make all the difference?

Sincerely,
Dan Tribley
Lead Health Coach