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Don’t Be a Martyr On Valentine’s Day

Courtesy of aiwaz.net

If you’re not in hot, sweaty love at the moment, in the relationship of your dreams, or in a relationship at ALL, it’s easy use today’s date as another reason to do a self-loathing pile on and beat your esteem to a bloody pulp.

Let’s not do that.

The temptation is there, I grant you. The only thing Americans love even more than BEING in love, is torturing themselves over it in all its iterations (love that was, love that wasn’t, love that could be, may be, but isn’t).

But just because St. Valentine’s Day is named for not one but several Christian martyrs doesn’t mean you have to be one of them.

Let’s gain some perspective, shall we? Do we rail against the Fates because we don’t have the perfect Rockwellian family on Christmas? Do vegans weep because the most widely celebrated holiday in this country has a turkey at its center? (Well, some might.) It seems to me that faulting yourself or feeling bad that you don’t happen to have the ideal romantic situation on this specific date in the calendar year is, well, like being upset that you’re not Irish on St. Patty’s Day. (OK, not quite, but you see my point.)

I have seen all kinds of mixed-up, contradictory advice being handed out like pennies on Halloween–cheap, disappointing, WTF kind of advice. One blogger on yahoo shine recently said in one breath that she didn’t see single as being a problem (agreed), and then in the next breath warns singles not to hang out with other single girlfriends on Valentine’s Day because it will remind you that you’re single. ??!! What? What does she suggest—being a third wheel on someone’s romantic date, or staying at home and sobbing to “Someone Like You?”

Here are three things NOT to do today:

Don’t be a martyr. And by that I mean, don’t act tortured, fall on your sword, or walk around dripping your bleeding heart onto everyone. Just because you’re not partnered doesn’t mean your life is half-baked or somehow an utter failure. As I said previously, there are more single people than ever–more than half of the households in the U.S. are headed up by unmarried people. Playing the victim gets you nowhere fast–not with your fellow lady friends, and certainly not with the opposite sex. You’ll either make dudes feel bad for you, or, let’s face it, attract the wrong kind of dude altogether.

Don’t be a hater. I also don’t really quite get the need to be part of the whole anti-V-Day movement. What does that do but put yourself in the misery club (and in truth I think this is what that other advice blogger was getting at–that you don’t want to stand around in a hateful coven, stirring a bitter brew). It’s a day to celebrate love and romance in all its manifestations. There’s no reason you can’t enjoy it, just because you don’t happen to have some dude standing on your doorstep with dimestore flowers

Don’t confuse alone with lonely. There are many unsung benefits to being single—and last I checked, the status of being unmarried was not synonymous with being lonely. Hardly! Eric Klinenberg writes about the rise–and the appeal–of living alone in his new book Going Solo (which is excellent). (Check out the interview with Eric in the NYT).Cherish and embrace your solo-hood today. You are in complete possession of that delicious blend of total freedom and complete and utter privacy, and that, my friends, is what romance is made of.

 

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Pull the Plug on Stress with the 4-7-8 Breath

Dr. Weil and Dr. Oz rap about holistic health

Recently, Dr. Andrew Weil appeared on Dr. Oz to share some of his expertise into the field he has arguably pioneered in this country: holistic and integrative medicine.

I’m a fan of Weil’s, of course–having worked with his staff at the now-defunct Self Healing newsletter, when it was a sister pub of Body+Soul (now Whole Living magazine). And while he knows pretty much everything there is to know about food, fitness, meditation, supplements, you name it–I’ve heard him say again and again that when people ask what’s the one thing they can do TODAY to improve their health, it’s always this: Breathe.

Not just any old breathing of course–mindful breathing. There are tons of different breathing and meditation exercises. And the fact is if you do any of them regularly you’ll be better off than you are now–simply because focusing on your breath brings you back into your body, out of your head, and with that simple act comes a host of physical, mental, and emotional benefits.

But there’s one exercise in particular he recommends that is worth trying. I do it (not as often as I should). It’s called the 4-7-8 breath.

What It Can Do For You

Weil says this simple breathing exercise relaxes mind and body; he calls it a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. However, unlike tranquilizers, which can knock you out first and then gradually lose their power, he says, this breathing exercise, while subtle at first, gains power and effectiveness as you do it more. Weil mentioned on the show that it can also lower your blood pressure and improve focus. Not bad for something that anyone can do. For free.

How to Do a 4-7-8 Breath 

(These instructions come directly from Weil’s site)

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Weil adds that you should not do more than four breaths at a time during your first month of practice, and to do it twice a day. You can gradually extend to eight breath cycles. He says it’s normal to feel lightheaded at first, and that it should pass.

Read more about Weil’s recommended breathing exercises.

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3 Reasons to Be Single on Valentine’s Day

Attention all the single ladies.

So you’re single on Valentine’s Day. Good for you. Fear not–I won’t patronize you with ridiculous advice that 1) presumes you need pity, 2) insults your intelligence, or 3) suggests that you need a bubble bath and a new pair of shoes because you don’t have a boyfriend.

Ok, so maybe some ladies LIKE to celebrate the holiday with a hot bath and a journaling session. Some seek to mark the holiday with a decadent meal or a pricey purchase. And still others enjoy belting out a round of “I Will Survive” before weeping soundly into a glass of Veuve Cliquot. But I think we can do better than that.

I think what bothers me most is that this cultural stance (not to mention the caricatures I’ve just drawn for you) presumes that single women should feel bad about Valentine’s Day, and worse, that we can do little to stave off the despair besides crying or consuming–or both.

Where Valentine’s Day Went Wrong

How did one of the most innocuous holidays become so completely polarizing? The holiday itself is arguably kept afloat to give consumer products (namely greeting cards, jewelry, flowers, and candy) a mid-winter boost. The long, yawning weeks between New Year’s and Easter could use something, anything, to break up the winter doldrums. Sex and chocolate isn’t such a bad idea.

But somewhere along the line we got the idea that the holiday was only “for” couples; that single people are second-class citizens, all hail the couple. Why you’d assume that anyone in a relationship is generally happier than someone who isn’t is beyond me–and assuming that having a partner on Valentine’s Day somehow makes your life better (than, say, being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day) seems just insane.

Single? You’re Hardly Alone

Need I remind you just HOW many people are single in this country, on Feb 14, as well as every other day of the year? The U.S. Census reported in 2009 that there were nearly 100 million unmarried Americans. And 53% of them were women.

A 2010 census shows that 51.6 percent of households are headed by unmarried adults–up from 44.9 percent in 1990 (source: unmarriedamerica.org). So if you have this image that you’re cutting a lonely silhouette against a world of couples, think again.

3 Reasons to Love Being Single on Valentine’s Day

Yes, Valentine’s Day celebrates romance–but it’s also about romantic ideals. That’s something we can all partake in if we want. Hating romance just because you don’t happen to be in one is like hating beaches because you’re not currently on vacation on one.

(And I’m pretty sure if you asked most couples if they are living a “romantic ideal,” at the moment you’d get a lot of laughing in response). Here are some reasons why being single on this great Hallmark holiday ain’t so bad.

1. Pressure’s off. Being single on Feb 14th, if you ask me, is a free pass. If anything, pressure is on for couples–if it’s a new relationship, it’s all about what the dude did to make or break this one day. If you’re in an older or more seasoned relationship, this holiday can sometimes serve as an unwelcome benchmark–what did you used to do that you don’t anymore, etc. I think there’s a lot of pressure on couples to prove something (to themselves, each other, or other people) and I don’t envy that one bit. Think I’ll pass this round.

2. We have the luxury of uncoupling romance from relationship. Last I checked, romance and relationship were not synonymous. Romance is not limited to being in a relationship, let alone being married. Some of the most romantic things I’ve ever done I did when I was single. The point is this: Your life is what your life is, and to take an occasion such as this to magnify your own misery and denounce yourself utterly unlucky in love is–well, it’s wasted effort if you ask me.

3. We singles have something that coupled folks don’t have: The air of romantic possibility. There’s something far more romantic about being single if you ask me–an air of mystery and potential that, let’s face it, people in 20-year marriages do not necessarily have (unless they have a special arrangement). How you view your life creates your experience of it, and so if you choose to see it as a tragedy, that’s probably what it’ll feel like. But view it as a romance–which by definition is a narrative filled with heroic deeds, pageantry, and romantic exploits–and the world opens up. You might take a risk, reach out to someone new, try something completely out of character. If you see your life as a romance, then you can assume that it can have a happy ending, whether you’re part of a couple or not.

 Want to read more? If you haven’t checked out this stuff, you should: 

All the Single Ladies by Kate Bolick, The Atlantic Monthly 

Single by Choice by Janelle Nanos, Boston magazine (full disclosure: I was interviewed for this one)

One’s a Crowd by Eric Klinenberg in the NYT (his brand new book is Going Solo)

Singled Out by Bella DePaulo, PhD (LOVING this book; really a must-read for singles)

Alone Again, Naturally by Dominique Browning (NYT)

 

 

 

 

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Refill Your Green Tea

Image courtesy of walax.org

I hesitate to even tell you to drink green tea because you may fall immediately asleep out of boredom because you’ve heard people touting this beverage for at least a hundred years. Or so it seems.

But I’m sorry. Some things are just worth repeating. The research keeps piling up.

What you may know already is that green tea is packed with free-radical-zapping antioxidants, which means reducing your risk of all kinds of age-related conditions and diseases. It’s worth nothing that a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a large Japanese study, suggests that those older adults who drank the most green tea were the least likely to become “functionally disabled.”

Reuters reports: “Specifically, almost 13 percent of adults who drank less than a cup of green tea per day became functionally disabled, compared with just over 7 percent of people who drank at least five cups a day.”

They report though that it’s not like green tea alone is some magic juice: “Green-tea lovers generally had healthier diets, including more fish, vegetables and fruit, as well as more education, lower smoking rates, fewer heart attacks and strokes, and greater mental sharpness.”

The point is, if you drink green tea, chances are you’re doing a few other things right too.

Look, I love the stuff–from the roasted hoji cha to the toasted-rice-flavored genmaicha, to straight up sencha. But if you’re not used to green tea, it can be a bit of jump, especially the more vegetal flavors. There are, however, plenty of green tea makers out there that offer teas infused with fruit essences and what have you. There are enough kinds of green tea at Whole Foods to line an entire wall of your home.

So, experiment. Try a bunch of different ones–and in the name of staying spry, drink it. Often.

 

 

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Eat Slower With Friends (or Eat Alone)

Image courtesy of sxc.hu

Did you know that you eat way, way more when you dine with other people? Funny, because so often I hear people say they honestly think they eat LESS when they’re out with friends or colleagues because they’re “so busy talking.” Well, I’ll tell you right now that’s a load of bull. Most of us are talking with our mouths full. Or listening as we chew. And chew.

I am not going on anecdotal research here, either–for matters like this I turn to one of my favorite experts, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., head of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab at Cornell and the author of Mindless Eating (a must read if you have any interest in peeking under the hood of your own eating habits and changing them).

I’ll add that he’s the lead author of over 100 academic articles and books on eating behavior, and a man who’s been called the Sherlock Holmes of food. So there you have it.

Wansink says if you eat with one other person, you’ll consume about 35% more than if you ate alone. Get a table for four, and you’ll take in as much as 75% more. Did you even know you could eat that much more? Now you do.

I’m not blaming you, by the way, nor implying that you’ve got lousy self control. The reason this happens is likely due in part to our natural instincts as social animals–to eat while others are eating, and sometimes keep on picking if your dining companions continue to graze. (It doesn’t help that most single restaurant servings could serve a family of five.)

What to do? Wansink suggests this tip: Try to be the last one to start eating when the food is served, and to pace yourself with the slowest eater at the table. And, he says, skip on seconds.

Here’s what I do: I try to let pleasure, appetite, and satiety rule by paying close attention to how the food tastes and how I feel as I eat. The first few bites are ALWAYS the best. So as soon as I feel that flame of appetite sort of snuff out, and realize that the food just doesn’t taste as good as it did in the beginning, I put my fork down and let the whole situation cool off–my appetite and the food itself. I’m done.

Now, of course I don’t mean that you have to eat alone to lose weight, etc. And while eating alone can be very calming and restorative, I don’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t eat out with a gang of folks. Please–one of the great pleasures on this planet is sharing food with friends. But tuning in to where you’re at with your meal and pacing yourself can make a big difference.

 

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Don’t Hit Send (Trust Me)

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and David Castillo Dominici

So…you’re mad. You got an inexcusable, dismissive, or disrespectful email that you are ready to smack right back across the digital fence. It’s easy, right? Too easy. And THAT perhaps may be one of the most temptingly dangerous fruits that instantaneous communication lays at our feet.

Because it’d be a whole different story if you had to get out a piece of looseleaf, write down your response long-hand (not to mention tear it up and start over when you got it wrong), reread it (which chances are you may not do with email), sealed it into an envelope, got up, put pants on, a coat, grabbed your keys, locked the door behind you, and walked a few blocks down the street to mail it.

There would be many chances to turn back in that old-fashioned scenario. But not now. Before you’ve even fully articulated or completed your thought, you can punt it right back out with a single keystroke, without so much as a reread. Without so much as pants, for that matter.

And this can spell trouble for our personal and professional relationships.

My advice: Stop. Before you hurl reciprocal vitriol into the ether, let the heat of the moment pass. Maybe you write your response, but do NOT put a sender’s email/name in the box yet (one faulty tread of a curious cat could prematurely deliver it). Save it in drafts, close it.

Then, later, when you have off-gassed some of that initial toxic fume to a friend or coworker, calmed down, perhaps eaten something, you can reconstruct, revise, or rethink altogether what exactly you have to say to this person.

The delay you build in will not make you softer or less sharp–in fact, it will make you wiser, and, just maybe, a little kinder.

So put down that match. Don’t burn those bridges just yet. It could be the best decision you make all day.

 

 

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Don’t Booze Right Before Bed (And What to Do Instead)

Image courtesy of wikipedia

Sure, that glass of pinot sounds like a good idea right before bed, especially when you typically have trouble transitioning to shuteye. But beware bedtime drinker: While that vino (or vodka, whatever your pleasure) may “take the edge off” and make you drowsy, and help you ease into sleep–it won’t keep you there.

Why Alcohol Sucks as a Sleep Aid

There’s lots of research and press on the topic, including this study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, that found that while alcohol may initially improve sleep in nonalcoholic people, the effect of high alcohol doses can disrupt sleep cycles–primarily the second half of the nocturnal sleep period (you know, those deeper, juicier layers of sleep, without which you don’t feel as refreshed).

What’s worse: Tolerance goes up, so that you need more and more alcohol to produce the initial effects, which then only serves to further disrupt your sleep.

Alcohol, in short, is great at making you sleepy, especially when you want to be awake, and yet lousy at keeping you in the very stages of sleep you need so you don’t feel sleepy. That’s the worst ad for a sleep aid I’ve ever heard.

While experts say a little wine at dinner, etc, is probably fine if that’s your norm, using alcohol to get yourself to fall asleep is a slippery, sleepless slope.

What To Do Instead

The Mayo Clinic offers some very basic tips on sleep–and if you feel like you’ve heard it before, you’re right. So have I. But that’s because there’s a grain of truth to all the sleep wisdom: In order to get better sleep, you have to maintain a consistent sleep schedule, not eat or drink right before bed (not a ton, anyway), and maintain a cool, dark room.

Sounds like a no-duh. But how many blinking or bright LED lights are in your sleep space? (Think: phone, alarm clock, etc). Is there a streetlight peeking through your blinds? Shut them off, turn the clock away. Those tiny little beams of light really can affect (read: screw up) your ability to sleep because your brain and all the glands/hormones associated with creating the conditions for sleep are wired to respond to light. So, lights out. You might also want to make sure that you’re bed is comfortable for you, for example, you could try something like a full size mattress for better sleep.

You may also want to swap out your hot toddy for a hot bath or shower. Why? Because afterwards, your body temperature drops–and that drop signals to the body that it’s time to sleep. Don’t believe me? Ask Stanford University.

And then of course there are always natural methods to help you switch off and get a good night’s rest. Some people like to use CBD oil as part of their night time routine. If you’re someone who struggles with late night stress and worries then alternative medicines like the best cbd oil uk could offer a solution thanks to their calming properties.

My point is this: Give yourself a last call at least two hours before bedtime. And try the hot shower. It could be the best decision you make all day–or night.

P.S. One of the foremost experts on sleep, whom I interviewed on my show on Sirius XM, is Dr. Michael Breus, aka “The Sleep Doctor.” If you have trouble sleeping, check out his insomniablog.

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Stop Feeding Your Inner Hoarder

Depositphotos_64855481_s-2015

The term “hoarder” has, you may have noticed, become subject to word inflation. And why? Because it’s catchy and current and everyone who shows even the slightest hesitation at parting with any single item or collection of items risks being called one. We may, half jokingly, eye our own piles and worry that maybe there is an inner hoarder quietly collecting inside of us until we lose our minds and one day end up buried alive in newspapers or baby cribs (or rats, god forbid), until someone you know comes to visit you with the local hoarder cleaning service because they haven’t heard from you in days and they are or worried that the worst might have happened.

We know, of course, this is not the case. And while hoarding, to be the best of my knowledge, is not an “official” condition, it is a compulsive disorder that the Mayo Clinic says is often more likely to occur in people who have other compulsive disorders (like anxiety/depression, alcohol dependency, etc). It’s treated, with mixed results, with some combination of psychotherapy and drugs. And no, being the subject of a reality show where someone comes and cleans out your house with a dumptruck won’t do much in the way of curing it, either.

(Though in case you’re wondering what mental health care providers look for, check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say about that; namely, acquisition of a large number of possessions, having an overly cluttered home, and distress over your hoarding.)

You may not be a hoarder, but…

You may, like me, have more around than you actually need. And so as you try to clean up from last year and create a clean slate for this one, facing off with your stuff is key. Clutter is more than just stuff, though—it’s the physical evidence of indecision.

Look around. Where do things tend to collect in your house, your room, on your desk? And more importantly, why? My friend and colleague, a woman I admire a whole lot Gail Blanke, creator of Throw Out Fifty Things (the book, the site, the movement) calls clutter “life plaque”; it collects in the arteries of your life and clogs up the works. And in order to get things circulating in a healthy way, you have to throw out, as she says, 50 things–not 5, 10, or 25. Though you’ll feel good when you toss/donate/part with any number of things, she says 50 is the sweet spot. I believe her.

I do this every few months myself, and am, as we speak, trying to let go of the guilt of putting unread issues of New York magazine in the recycle bin. I didn’t read it, not for weeks and weeks, and I’m not going to read it now.

YOUR BEST DECISION ALL DAY

Today, pick one area or pile or drawer and look it dead in the eye. Give yourself no more than 15 minutes to make the decisions you need to clear it out. Keep a list of the stuff you toss, and either keep going, or try it again tomorrow. It’s the quickest way to lose a lot–and I mean a lot–of weight.

…And in fact, as Gail will tell you, people who begin to release their white-knuckled grip on the things surrounding them, it’s no surprise when they actually start to lose body weight, too. Another good reason to start letting go–today.

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Screw the Resolutions. Just Start Doing Something (I’ll Give You 6 to Start)

Well hello there. You made it. Over the rickety holiday bridge into the vast tundra of the new year, possibly the last year, if the Mayans have it right. I’m not all that worried about it.

In fact, more of you are likely dreading something else–weight gain, or rather, a failure to lose weight gained over the past few months. So you resolve to lose weight, to go to the gym every single day, to never ever ever touch a piece of cake again.

Come on. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? There are scores of blogs and news stories out there either telling you how to keep a resolution or how you’ll inevitably break one or all of them. Little of which does you very good.

Do Something You Like, for Chrissakes

I for one think it’s a whole lot easier to do things that, well, you want to do. OR–like the effects of that thing. Let’s take an obvious one, like going to the gym, which sounds loathsome…until you go. Not just once, but, like, a few days in a row. I have started to do this and make a habit of it–and instead of loathing it, I’m sort of addicted to the way I feel when I leave…and so I go back.

(Also, at my gym, they give you this option to book your bike for spin class 26 hours in advance–and those classes fill up fast. And if you don’t show up for the bike you book, you’re blacklisted. So there’s that.)

But say you hate the gym and will not under any circumstances start going. Fine. I think there are probably lots of other things to resolve to do for your general health and wellness that don’t have to start with “I will lose…” (insert number of desired pounds here).

The reason we don’t stick with promises we make ourselves that sound good on paper are, I believe, because they suck. And we’re so busy talking about them that we don’t do them at all.

YOUR BEST DECISIONS ALL YEAR

So I say stop it with the big pronouncements, and start with small, quiet actions that you just do. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Book a regular massage. Whether that means once a week, once a month, or once a quarter, doesn’t matter. As long as you make your next appointment before you leave, it’s regular. (If you need a primer on why it’s such an important part of self care, here’s one.)
  • Go to bed half an hour earlier for a week straight. Then repeat the next week. And the next.
  • Swap out one crap food for one fresh food every day.
  • Cut out one or all of the big three. The three big digestive bullies are: gluten, soy, and dairy. Try cutting one, two, or all three out for a week or two and see what happens. You may be surprised. And those of you with digestive problems, you may be very pleasantly surprised.
  • Have sex more often. Yeah, I said it. Why not? Make it a priority, people. There’s too much great research on the benefits of sex not to make this part of what you do for yourself (including benefits to the immune system, heart health, self esteem, even pain reduction, according to WebMD)
  • Contact one good friend each week. I don’t mean write on their wall, either. I mean: email that person directly or even call (though I’ll be the first to admit I find phone convos lacking) and set up a time to see them. It’s hard to feel lonely or isolated when you keep shoring up the connections that make you who you are.

 OH–AND IF YOU’RE IN NEW ENGLAND…

….Here’s another idea: If you’re in the Boston area, join me at the first-ever two-day event Be Healthy Boston on Jan 28-29. I’ll be there to deliver the opening keynote. But that’s not the reason to go; I think it’ll be a great place to sort of play around and expose yourself to different aspects of health you may never have tried before.

NOTE though that you can’t just show up; you must buy tickets in advance. If you do come, please come up and introduce yourself if we haven’t met! It’s going to be fun. Get tickets here.