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Stress – the good, bad and the ugly

Is the feeling of being “tired but wired” familiar to you?

Or maybe you are on the “coffee, chocolate & wine” diet. You NEED a coffee to wake up. At 3.30 the afternoon slump hits and you seek out chocolate for a quick pick-me-up, and then a sneaky wine or two at night to help calm you down and fall asleep.

Squirming a little?

Let’s talk about STRESS today as nothing stuffs your hormones, health or happiness faster than unmanaged or chronic stress.

But first – I want to stress (ha ha) that not all stress is bad. In fact, a healthy dose of stress is needed to motivate you to perform and work at a high level.

The key is to manage your stress so that it doesn’t spiral out of control and set off a series of health issues and hormonal chaos.

I’d like to introduce you to CORTISOL – one of the main stress hormones (the other being adrenaline).

Cortisol receptor cells are found in almost every cell in the body, therefore this hormone can have a number of different actions depending on which cell it is targetting. Cortisol plays a role in:

  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Regulating metabolism
  • Acting as an anti-inflammatory
  • Influencing memory function
  • Controlling water and salt balance
  • Influencing blood pressure
  • Sleep/wake cycles
  • Digestion
    …to name a few!

Poor old cortisol gets a bad rap, but as you will soon see it is the chronic activation of the stress response that is the issue.

I could get super nerdy and detailed about the stress response, but let’s keep things simple. Here’s a brief explanation of the “fight or flight” stress response.

Your senses detect a potentially life-threatening situation that the brain interprets as “danger”. In response to this acute stress, the branches of the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic systems) work in tandem, together with the hormonal system and set off a series of reactions we call the stress response.

In reaction to a stressor, the sympathetic arm – let’s call it the accelerator pedal – will initiate the “fight or flight” response. A series of messages stimulate the release of hormones, one being CORTISOL, and the body is activated to protect us from the danger by preparing us either to stay and fight or to get away as fast as possible – we become faster, stronger, and have more endurance for a short time.

Once the stressor has passed, the parasympathetic arm – or the brake pedal – promotes relaxation and recovery and brings the body back to its normal state.

This reaction is healthy and beneficial when it is turned on AND off.

The challenge is that for many people the accelerator pedal is always on, keeping the engine revving too high. This is CHRONIC stress and the cortisol surge never turns off. This can lead to elevated cortisol, or it may cause your cortisol levels to swing wildly between too high and too low – sometimes within hours of the same day!

Hello hormone imbalance!

The problem is that your body does not know the difference between physical & mental stress, actual or perceived stress, and it triggers the same physiological response.

Unfortunately, the body can overreact to stressors that are non-life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, family or relationship difficulties, even perceived stressors that don’t exist, except in our imagination, too much intense exercise without sufficient recovery, extreme dieting…

The more stressors, the greater effect on the nervous system. If the individual cannot remove the stressors the more dominant the sympathetic nervous system becomes.

Long-term effects of chronic stress have been linked to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Increased belly fat
  • Changes in the brain, particularly the hippocampus which is the memory centre
  • Insomnia
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Inflammation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
    …wonderful hey!

The GOOD news is, however, that with a few tweaks to your lifestyle these effects can be halted or even reversed by managing your stress levels and finding the “Goldilocks” level – not too high and not too low – for cortisol.

Here are 3 strategies to start feeling a little more relaxed…

  1. MOVEMENT

Find something that you LOVE to do, that takes you outside, that gets the happy hormones flowing. Yoga, dancing, zumba, swimming, walking, LISS (low-intensity steady state cardio), pilates. ANY movement that leaves you feeling better than before you started.  **Beware of adding to your stressed state with too much high-intensity exercise.**

2. MINDSET

As women and mums, we are very good at trying to be everything to everyone, feeling guilty when we fall short of our own expectations and “not enough”. Working on your mindset, practicing self-compassion, choosing to do less to achieve more, will all go a long way to relieving the feelings of stress and anxiety that build up, keeping the accelerator pedal down and the engine revving.

3. MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness is a form of self-awareness training. Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in the present on a moment to moment basis, and not making judgments about whether we like or don’t like what we find. When we focus on the present and disengage from mental clutter, it allows us to have a clear mind. It makes it possible for us to respond rather than react to situations, and therefore improve our decision-making and potential for physical and mental relaxation. Ahhh!

Do you need to press PAUSE and take your foot off the accelerator? Then I’d love you to join me at our next mmmPower Your Heart Body & Soul workshop where we focus on the three m’s above – Movement, Mindset & Mindfulness.

WHEN: Monday 18th June
TIME: 7.30pm – 9.30pm
WHERE: The Swedish Pilates Studio, Glen Iris
BOOKINGS: Click HERE (you’ll be taken to Mindbody)
FURTHER INFO: jacqui@heartbodyandsoul.com.au

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Why Shopping for Clothes is my kryptonite

Dress shop window

How a coach can help you overcome your kryptonite

Kryptonite! We all have our own version of Superman’s kryptonite – something that exposes your ultimate weakness, fear, aversion, or a phobia.

What’s my kryptonite?

A – SHOPPING FOR CLOTHES!

Closely followed by…

B – ATTENDING A FANCY LADIES LUNCHEON

And I have done A to attend B this week. Just typing those phrases gives me a funny feeling in my stomach and makes me break out in a cold sweat.

Why? Because of the stories I tell myself whilst in the fitting room. You know the ones

“I can’t wear that, I’m 48, not 18!”
“I’m not tall enough to wear that length, I need at least another 10cm”
“That doesn’t suit me, I don’t have any boobs!”
“Black…my cupboard is full of black…matches the dark circles under my eyes though”
“Oh, crap heels too! No way I look like I’ve drunk a magnum of Moet at the races trying to walk in those killers”
“NOTHING FITS ME, NOTHING SUITS ME, I’M NOT GOING”

And the BIG story I tell myself…

Everyone else looks so glamorous and confident, and happy and comfortable in heels!

But, with the help of a wonderful shop assistant who immediately identified I was feeling the effects of kryptonite, I did find something whilst shopping today. She listened to my stories, asked me some great questions, gave me a few options, and steered me gently towards being able to make my own choices. I felt at ease, I felt supported, I felt empowered.

Change the scenario, and the truth of the matter is a LOT of women feel just like me. Let’s use going to the gym as an example.

Do these stories sound familiar?

“I can’t possibly run, everything jiggles”
“I’m too uncoordinated to do a class – everyone will look at me”
“I look so lumpy in activewear”
“I’m too unfit to go to the gym”
“I’m too old to start, and I don’t know what to do”.
“NOTHING FITS ME, I’M TOO UNFIT, I’M NOT GOING.”

And of course the old chestnut…everyone else looks so confident, fit, strong and like they know what they are doing.

But, just like the wonderful shop assistant coached me through my version of hell, a great health & fitness coach can help you overcome your kryptonite and inspire you to bring out your best. A good coach will help you feel at ease. Feel supported. Feel empowered.

Maybe I could be that coach for you. x

 

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Today I did something I haven’t done for a while…

Woman sitting on ledge thinking

Today I did something I haven’t done for a while – I stood on the bathroom scales and weighed myself.

I used to do this daily.

The number I saw on the scale would then influence my mood, what I ate, how much I exercised, how I dressed, what I thought of myself. In short – it would dictate whether I had a good day or a bad day.

What happened today? Looking down at the scales I noticed the numbers where a little different to the last time – “interesting”!

I looked in the mirror and I saw myself. I saw the body of a (nearly) 48-year-old woman. A woman who has carried, birthed, nourished and nurtured 3-children. A body that has been physically active for as long as its been alive. A physique that is strong, has run marathons, can do pull-ups, can deadlift more than it weighs. A scar that signifies the entrance to the world of baby #3.

A body that is starting to change as it transitions from child-bearing years through the years of peri-menopause to menopause and beyond. A frame that supports a family, encasing a heart that beats, lungs that breathe, and limbs that move.

A body that I am at peace with.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

There were years of fighting with my body. There were years of restriction, over-exercising, of not feeling thin enough. There was a great fear of getting fat, weighing more, of not being fit enough, of not being enough.

When I looked in the mirror then I only saw flaws – not tall enough, not busty enough, arms too muscly, too many veins, not enough curves, not a flat enough stomach…

And when I looked at the scales then, the number was much less than what it is today.

Weight does not equal health, or worthiness, or happiness.

Thin does not equal fit, or healthy, or happy.

Well-being and healthy habits are so much more important than the number on a scale. Living a fulfilling life is not dependent upon how you look, what you weigh or how young you stay.

I am heavier, happier and healthier now more than ever.

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Do you suffer from Decision Fatigue?

My 5-Top Tips to avoid Decision Fatigue

Decision fatigue. Heard of it? It’s that feeling of overwhelm that gradually builds up, to the point where if you have to make one more decision, for yourself or someone else, it may just tip you over the edge.

Let’s face it – life is one decision after the next. If you are a (recovering) perfectionist like me, trying to make the “right” decision whilst keeping everyone happy, reduces your capacity to make excellent choices when it really matters.

Personally, I have learnt that by trying to make the “right” decision about every logistical arrangement for the family, every group fitness session, every post on Facebook and every minute of my day is not only impossible and exhausting, but it leaves me mentally and emotionally drained to make great decisions about the things that matter the most.

I was sweating the small stuff!

So rather than trying to make the perfect decision, or not make a decision at all in case it’s the wrong one, I now try to make a choice that meets a basic standard of satisfaction, and then move on.

This is what I like to call “its good enough”. Decision made, move on.

In practice, this allows me to get more done because I’m not wasting precious time or energy on decisions that in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter.

For example – So I didn’t get the best possible price for my new runners. Meh. Move on. So my choice of salmon at dinner didn’t look as tasty as the chicken my husband chose. Move on. So I didn’t correct the typo in the Facebook post before I pressed publish? Move on.

Here are my 5 top tips on how you can avoid “Decision Fatigue”

  1. Don’t fall into the comparison trap! Despite your best intentions, if you compare there will always be someone who made a better (cheaper, tastier, better looking, easier, quicker results etc) choice. Make the best decision you can with what you know and leave it at that. So your shoes cost $50 more than Sarah’s who bought them online, OK, move on, let it go.
  2. Limit your choices. I love the idea of a uniform. Why? It takes away the need to make a decision about what to wear each day. Steve Job’s was known to wear only blue jeans and either a black or white t-shirt to work every single day so he didn’t’ have to waste his energy each morning on deciding what to wear. By applying this principle to those things which aren’t really critical, will free up your time and brain space for the meaningful stuff. Long live activewear!
  3. Lower your bar or standard. This has possibly been one of the harder things for me to do, but also the one that has made the most difference. By lowering the decision-making bar to what is a ‘good enough’ choice rather than what is the perfect choice, has saved me hours of unproductive research, worry, and indecision. 80% is good enough.
  4. Make it irreversible. Some decisions we make, such as what to wear to work, are not going to change the course of history or damage your health if you simply make the decision and move on.But, if you make an open-ended decision by keeping your options open just in case you change your mind later, or hedge your bets, this will leave you wide open to constantly second-guessing yourself which is exhausting. Make a choice, stick to it, end of story.
  5. Be decisive despite your uncertainty. Hands up if you’ve let the fear of making a wrong decision stop you from making a right decision…or making any at all. Yep, my hand is UP. Of course, there are genuinely important decisions that we need to make throughout the course of life – and these are the ones we want to save our energy for. We have so much data, information and a plethora of possibilities at our disposal that if we analyse the small stuff for too long we miss out on living life and allow potential or opportunities pass us by.

Research has found, the most successful people don’t sweat small decisions and they don’t spend years analysing and researching the big ones. Instead, they make the best decision they can at that time with the available data. If the outcome is less than ideal, they pivot and move on. Delaying a decision at the time can seem like the safest thing to do, but can often be the riskiest.

What I’ve come to realise is that good enough is truly good enough. By letting go of the fear of making an imperfect decision I am no longer distracted from making great decisions about the things that matter the most in life. Living life, being in the moment, that’s what really matters x

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Why diets don’t work

diets don't work

Please don’t diet again

Dieting is not a topic that I write or even talk about very often, and that’s because DIETS DON’T WORK.

But why then is the diet industry making so much money? Because diets don’t work! You try one diet, immediately lose a few kgs but when life goes back to normal, you put those kilos back on. The next new diet trend comes along, you sign-up to another program, lose weight, gain weight, next program…and on…and on…$$$

Diets come in all shapes and sizes – shakes, pills, ready-made meals, cutting out dairy/gluten/grains, detoxing, keto – best described in a word RESTRICTION. In the short term, any diet will “work” – you will lose weight as measured on the scales.

But what about long-term? What’s happened 12-months after the 6-week shred or 12-week online program has finished, what then?

The vast majority of people who go on a “diet” regain any weight lost and quite often plus some, once they return to normal eating behaviours and habits.

So why don’t diets work? Simple really – our bodies were designed and have evolved to survive in times of feast AND famine (diet). I am sure you’ve heard all of the following before, but here’s a snapshot of what happens when you reduce or restrict calories, in other words, go on a diet:

METABOLISM WILL SLOW DOWN

Despite all the willpower and mental energy you can muster, your physical body just doesn’t understand dieting. Although we’d like to think this is what the brain is saying to the body…

“I’ve noticed that Jacqui’s cut back on her food recently. She must be back on that summer bikini-body shred diet. Hey, Metabolism, even though fuel is a little light on at the moment, let’s keep things at full throttle so Jac can lose that extra 5kg she’s gained.”



Unfortunately, (or fortunately) our physical bodies are only concerned with one thing – SURVIVAL. The following thought is a little more like what is registered…



“Hmmm, fuel appear to be in short supply at the moment. Hey Metabolism, turn down the flame to a gentle simmer, we need to conserve energy. I’ll send out the hunger hormones to try and bump up supply again”.



So, when food or energy supply is reduced to a level lower than what we optimally need, our body’s natural survival mechanism is to slow down metabolism to help the body function on fewer calories leaving more to store as fat.

CHANGE IN HORMONE LEVELS THAT CONTROL HUNGER & SATIETY

In addition to your metabolism slowing down in response to calorie restriction, the hormones that control appetite and feeling full are messed up too. Despite what you might think, these hormones actually do the opposite when we are underfed.

The hormone that tells the brain we have eaten enough, Leptin, has been found to DECREASE with calorie restriction, meaning we need to eat more to feel full.

Ghrelin is the hormone released to stimulate your appetite and this has been found to INCREASE in times of calorie restriction or under eating.

Combine the two and we have the perfect storm of both feeling hungry and not feeling satisfied or full with what we have eaten – which together lead to wanting to eat more, not less!

NEUROLOGICAL CHANGES

In addition to a slower metabolism and messed up hormones, a diet also plays havoc with our thinking. Food becomes more tempting the longer you deprive yourself of it.

Ever noticed that when you have told yourself you “can’t have cake” all you can think about is cake? We become obsessed with thinking about food, how long until the next meal, you notice every ad on TV about food, smell every bakery you walk past and even hear other peoples conversations about FOOD!

The reward response to food becomes stronger when on a diet too. Each time we eat, we get a little hit of dopamine (the hormone that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres). Food becomes even more rewarding – that piece of cake that you tried not to eat for so long tastes even better when you do eat it.

As you can see, we are perfectly set up to fail a calorie restrictive diet. Our body is wired – metabolically, hormonally, neurologically – to stay alive and survive famine. Dieting is like fighting the unwinnable fight.

So what’s the message in all of this?

That by using weight-loss as a goal you are setting yourself up for failure. I’m not suggesting you throw in the towel and binge on junk food. But if you were to move the focus from weight loss to health improvement, the goal is quite a bit easier to achieve and weight loss may be a bonus side effect.

To keep things super simple, the basics of healthy living are:

  1. Move daily – less sitting, more standing, more moving
  2. Eat 5 or more serves of fresh vegetables & fruit a day – add in lots of colour & variety
  3. Don’t smoke
  4. Drink alcohol in moderation

Not that difficult really! The more boxes you tick, the longer you can expect to live.

If weight loss is your goal, I hope you can now see that you will constantly be on a roller-coaster – physically, emotionally and mentally. Why not set yourself up to win and focus on improving your overall health rather than the number on the scales.

“Your body is not your masterpiece – your life is”, www.momastery.com


Sources:

“Secrets from the lab: The science of weight loss, the myth of willpower and why you should never diet again”, Professor Traci Mann

Precision Nutrition “Leptin, Ghrelin and weight loss” www.precisionnutrition.com

Eric M. Matheson, Dana E. King, and Charles J. Everett
Healthy Lifestyle Habits and Mortality in Overweight and Obese Individuals
J Am Board Fam Med January-February 2012 25:9-15

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Letting go

Hey Jac…what are you holding onto?

This was a question I kept asking myself this morning in Yin yoga, as I found myself holding tension in muscles and even holding my breath.

The more I practice this form of yoga, the more I become aware of just how much tension I hold onto in a physical sense. With awareness comes the ability to make a change – releasing the muscular activity, letting go of my breath and allowing my respiratory muscles to take over.

In letting go it creates space – space to stretch into, to breath into and move into.

So, it got me to thinking, am I holding onto other “stuff” without being aware of it? A behaviour or habit that’s just part of the routine but isn’t serving its purpose anymore? A role or a job that I don’t really want/need or enjoy but do it because I always have? What if I let go of those things, how much space would I create to do the things I REALLY want to do?

Hmmm…looking forward to next Thursday’s yin already x

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The badge of BUSY

I was being a bit of a sticky beak today whilst waiting in line at a department store. I overheard a couple of ladies talking about how busy they were, each trying to outdo the other with who was busier!

C: “Oh Hi Angela, how are you?”

A: “Hi Christine! Great, but super busy.”

C: “Yeah, me too – John’s away at the moment so I’m juggling everything and it’s exhausting”.

A: “I’m used to Michael being away as he travels most weeks, but the kids have had gastro and my mum hasn’t been around either, so I’ve been pretty stretched.”

C: “Oh, that sounds terrible. We had gastro go through the house a few weeks ago too, and then the car was in for a service, and the cleaner couldn’t come…

I think you get the picture…

I must admit, I did cringe a little listening to this, because I’ve been there, wearing the “Badge of Busy” with pride. Responding to the question “how are you” with an automatic “great, busy”.

But, I don’t want to be busy for busy sake anymore. Yes, I have a full schedule, and yes some days are chock-a-block, but I don’t want to be busy to sound important, to validate what I do each day. So I’ve started doing the following, and it seems to be helping:

  • Single-tasking. Spending quality time on 1 task without distraction is a LOT more productive than swapping between multiple tasks and getting nothing done and staying busy!
  • Carving out a minimum of 10-minutes a day to deliberately slow down. Maybe meditate, maybe a coffee (no phone, books or papers), maybe a little nanna nap!
  • Leisure walking. This is one of my daily non-negotiables as it recharges my physical and emotional energy. Somedays I listen to a podcast, others its downtime. Either way, the dogs come with me and we enjoy the fresh air, and a little physical movement.

By adding in these little bits, I’m creating space to unbusy (and make up new words) and I’m happy to answer the question “how are you” with “great thanks” without the busy badge 🙂

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Good enough IS good enough

So this weekend didn’t quite go according to plan from a training perspective…but, I survived!

You see, a few years back, not getting out to do the training I had planned would have sent me into a judge-y, shame-filled, guilt trip of “shoulds”. I “should” have just gone for a short run, I “should” have gone to the gym, I “should”…

I “had” to follow my training plan to T H E L E T T E R, I had to be “perfect” to achieve my goals.

Although I’d like to say that with maturity I’ve been able to break the cycle of perfection, the reality is I’ve endured episodes of overtraining which led to overuse injury, illness, and complete physical/emotional breakdowns.

It has taken a lot of hard work on me to come out the other side, but I still have moments…

Now good enough is actually great. Good enough allows me room to move, to be very happy with a 20 minute run, to be very content with a sleep in & a snuggle minus the guilt, to enjoy a night out with friends without going home early to be “run fit” for the morning, to allow my body to recover from the run-down state its in.

I share this because I know I’m not the only one who experiences these feelings. My perfectionist/ self-judgment issues have always been around the need to be perfect with regards to exercise & training. For others, its diet, others its work, or body-image, appearance, fashion, an academic achievement…the list is endless.

Nothing can ever be perfect, but something is ALWAYS good enough, and practicing self-care & compassion is the best training you will ever do x

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How to manage your energy levels

Energy – the basic building block of life. Without energy, we couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, much less go for a run, or handle with care a challenging toddler (or teenage) tantrum. So how can we manage our energy levels enable to enable you to live life to the full and be a source of positive energy for all who come in contact with you? By Investing time each day to recharge, refocus, and refuel your Heart Body & Soul.

There are different types of energy and they all can have a very different impact on our lives. Positive energy, negative energy. High energy, low energy.

We all find ourselves feeling the effects of negative energy at times (angry, anxious, burnt out, depressed). If we spend too much time in the emotions of this negative energy, dark clouds can form overhead and every experience is tainted and makes life pretty miserable.

You know those down days – from the minute you get out of bed in the morning and stub your toe on the way to the bathroom, nothing goes right and its a downward spiral from there.

Other days you operate from high positive energy – you are confident, purposeful, connected and “on”, getting shit done left, right & centre.

But, without going to the well to refuel, we soon run out of that high positive energy and need to curl up and recover on the couch with a good book or binge watch a TV series in a day.

Just like in physics where for every action there is an equal and opposing reaction, balancing energy is a little similar. The aim is to balance energy expenditure with energy renewal. As written in The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, “energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.”

But before we get into the specifics, what does optimal energy look like? Simply put, its the alignment of the 5 core dimensions or layers of the energy pyramid – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

At the base or foundation level is PHYSICAL energy – good nutrition, healthy sleep habits, exercise & movement, physical stamina, and an overall sense of wellbeing.

Next level up is MENTAL or cognitive energy – focus on top priorities and decision making, be flexible and open to changing course.

The third level is EMOTIONAL energy – self-confidence, resilience, a sense of belonging and optimism.

And finally is SPIRITUAL energy – aligning with your core values and connecting to a purpose bigger than yourself, or living your “why”.

So, it makes sense then that if you are not sleeping or eating well, your energy foundations are not as solid as they could be and you might be looking for a coffee and chocolate at 3.30pm.

Similarly, if you are running around after kids and ticking off all the crappy little jobs on your to-do list, which let’s face it isn’t emotionally or spiritually fulfilling, your energy will be compromised and you lack the stamina and motivation to look out for #1 – you.

How then, can we work towards alignment of these core dimensions? The answer lies in including activities and rituals that address each dimension into your daily life to restore and amplify your energy.

Here’s a little activity for you to try and work towards building energy rituals into your day.

For each of the dimensions – physical, mental, emotional & spiritual – ask yourself the following questions:

  • I am at my best physically when I feel… (Strong? Fit? Eating well? Drinking water regularly? Well rested?)
  • To feel this way more often I will…(Create a list of daily rituals, habits or actions you can take, such as scheduling exercise, creating good sleep habits, getting outside for a walk, etc)
  • From the lists you create, then decide on 2-4 “non-negotiable” activities or rituals that you feel you need or require in your day to keep your energy in balance.

My non-negotiables are a daily walk outside, at least 10-minutes of solo downtime that could be spent meditating or writing in my journal or reading a book, and some form of purposeful movement. These are my fundamental requirements or energy refueling daily activities.

How do you manage your energy levels?

Its topics & activities like this that I cover in the Mojo Makeover workshop. Interested? If so, please sign up for the waitlist HERE and you’ll be first to know when the next workshop is announced.

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